Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Bishop Marianos with the Virgin Mary and Child and the Adult Christ
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    In this wall painting, Marianos, the bishop of the city of Faras (known in late antiquity and the Middles Ages as Pachoras), stands beside the Virgin Mary and the Christ child. Marianos is the central figure in the scene, holding a large Gospel book with a jeweled cross on its cover. The Virgin places her hand on the bishop's shoulder indicating the protection she provides for him. The infant Christ holds a book in one hand and, turning toward Marianos, gives a benediction. Little remains of the figure of the adult Christ standing on the other side of Marianos, though his hand in a protective gesture is partially visible on the bishop's shoulder and his feet remain above an elaborately decorated cross. The holy figures' heads are marked in specific ways: the adult Christ has a cruciform halo, the infant Christ a cross without a halo and Mary a halo with a red rim. Scholars believe that this and other paintings of bishops were added to the cathedral's walls near the beginning of their episcopates to ensure immediate divine blessings as well as ongoing intercessory prayers even after the bishops had died.

    Surviving inscriptions in Greek identify the two figures and encourage the prayers of viewers:
          To the left of the composition: With God, † and Abba Marianou, Bishop of Pachoras, orthodox and most pious, (may he live) many years! Amen
          Above the bishop’s head: † Abba Marianou, Bishop of Pachoras, orthodox and most pious, (may he live) many years!
          To the right: Son of Abba Ioannou, Bishop of Pachoras
          Beside and above the Virgin’s head: † Holy Mary, Mother of Christ

    The cathedral in the city of Faras was an important repository of centuries of medieval Nubian art and history. As the seat of a bishop, Faras Cathedral, first built in the 630s, was repeatedly renovated. Bishop Petros in the tenth century redid the roofing to create central domes and side room barrel vaults. He and his successors carried out an extensive visual program. New paintings and decorative motifs were placed atop earlier scenes of saints or angels with bishops, kings and queens. Done over a limestone whitewash, the murals contained paints sourced from around the Nile region, such as Egyptian blue, carbon black, red ochre, hematite, yellow ochre, and limonite. The city of Faras was first documented by American and British university expeditions at the beginning of the 20th century, but archaeologists' attention was focused on antiquity. When plans for the Aswan Dam threatened Faras and the larger region in 1961, international teams responded to the emergency by surveying and documenting historical treasures. A Polish team excavated Faras Cathedral, discovered the wall paintings and saved 120 works from the waters of Lake Nubia which would shortly inundate the region. Half of the paintings were relocated to the National Museum in Khartoum and half to the National Museum in Warsaw. Subsequent study of these paintings has recognized the artistry and complex iconography of an evolving medieval Nubian visual tradition across 700 years which built in part on Egyptian and Byzantine precedents.

    Faras was likely the seat of the rulers of Nobadia, a late antique kingdom in Nubia, now considered a part of modern-day southern Egypt and northern Sudan. In the 6th century the Nubian kingdoms converted to Byzantine Christianity, and Nobadia was annexed by Makuria, another Nubian kingdom, in the 7th century. The practice of creating murals of saints and bishops, as well as scenes from the Bible, on the walls of churches provides information both about aesthetics and religious belief. While subjects are treated repeatedly over time, different phases in depiction can be distinguished. The portrait of Marianos falls in the classical period of Nubian painting, characterized by bright colors, attention to decorative details and individualized treatment of faces. The bishop is wearing ecclesiastical garments and vestments which reflect his office, including the omophorion, a stole draped around his neck and hanging to the floor. These items are decorated with intricate designs and small bells. Both the bishop and the Virgin are holding an enchirion (in Greek “what is in the hand”), a ceremonial napkin associated with figures of high rank.

    The Christ Child and Bishop Marianos (and likely the adult Christ as well) are in possession of books of religious teachings. At the same time, Marianos gestures toward the book he holds, indicating a focus on teaching. The cathedral was a place of learning. This is evidenced not only by the iconography in the murals but also by school texts inscribed on the walls. They include Coptic alphabets, Greek words, numbers and exercises in writing signatures which all were likely used as learning tools in classes. Due to colonization, pillaging, and environmental change in the area, this history can very easily be lost to time. The preservation of the murals and discussion of the cathedral and religious practices allow us to keep alive the rich cultural history of the African medieval kingdoms.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Bishops Cathedrals Faras, Northern State, Sudan Mary, Virgin, Saint and Child in Art Nubia Wall Paintings
  • Geographic Area: Northern Africa
  • Century: 11
  • Date: 1005-1036
  • Related Work: Faras Gallery, Warsaw, Poland, National Museum. Six paintings from the cathedral along with three photographs of archaeological work.
    Bishop Petros with Saint Peter, Faras Cathedral, 974-997, Warsaw, National Museum
    Faras Cathedral model, Warsaw, National Museum, museum archives (model by Zbigniew Dolinski, photo by Piotr Ligier)
    Faras Cathedral, reconstruction, Warsaw, National Museum (Google Arts & Culture)
    Nativity, Faras Cathedral, circa 1000, Khartoum, Sudan National Museum. Photo by Retlaw Snellac.
    Queen Mother Martha Protected by the Virgin and Child, early 11th century, Khartoum, Sudan National Museum. Photo by Bruce Allardice.
    Treasures of Faras Hidden in the Desert Sands, produced by Culture.pl (YouTube)
  • Current Location: Warsaw, Poland, National Museum, 234036 MN (Marianos, Virgin and Child)
  • Original Location: Faras; Northern State, Sudan, Petros Cathedral, South Chapel, east wall
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images ; Paintings
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Paints; Mud; Plaster; Murals
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 247/155.5/
  • Inscription:

    To the left of the composition: With God, † and Abba Marianou, Bishop of Pachoras, orthodox and most pious, (may he live) many years! Amen
    Above the bishop’s head: † Abba Marianou, Bishop of Pachoras, orthodox and most pious, (may he live) many years!
    To the right: Son of Abba Ioannou, Bishop of Pachoras
    Beside and above the Virgin’s head: † Holy Mary, Mother of Christ
    See Greek texts and Greek transcriptions along with the translations above in Jakobielski, Pachoras Faras, page 309.

  • Related Resources:

    Godlewski, Wlodzimierz. Pachoras: The Cathedrals of Aetios, Paulos and Petros: The Architecture. Warsaw University Press, 2006.

    Innemée, Karel C. Ecclesiastical Dress in the Medieval Near East. Brill, 1992.

    Jakobielski, Stefan with Malgorzata Martens-Czarnecka, Magdalena Laptas, Bozena Mierzejewska and Bozena Rostkowska. Pachoras Faras: The Wall Paintings from Cathedrals of Aetios, Paulos and Petros. Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Warsaw, 2017.

    Medieval Nubian Wall Paintings: Techniques and Conservation. Edited by Dobrochna Zielinska. Archetype Publications in association with University of Warsaw Press, 2019.

    Ochala, Grzegorz. "The Cathedral of Faras as a Monument of Medieval Nubian Memory." Dumbarton Oaks Papers 76 (2022): 31-68. Available with a subscription from JSTOR: https://www.jstor.org/stable/27172434

    Zielinska, Dobrochna. "Arts and Crafts of the Medieval Kingdoms of Nubia." The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Nubia. Edited by Geoff Emberling and Bruce Williams. Oxford University Press, 2020. Pages 847-873.