Precious mould for eulogies is returned to Jerusalem | Custodia Terrae Sanctae

Precious mould for eulogies is returned to Jerusalem

Jerusalem, October 10, 2011

The archaeological museum of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum>Studium Biblicum Franciscanum has recently received a donation consisting of a mould for the production of stone eulogies. The mould contains, etched on opposite sides, two biblical scenes based upon the patriarch Abraham and the prophet Daniel stories.

Eulogies are small flasks, usually of metal or ceramic material, designed to contain a small amount of oil from the lamps that burn in the Holy Places. Pilgrims, especially from the Oriental Churches, like to bring back such eulogies as a souvenir of their trip. Presently, it is almost always glassy little bottles that you can buy in many shops around the Holy City.

Ancient eulogies are preserved in museums and collections around the world. The most representative group is probably made by the sixteen "ampullae" in Monza (Italy). Most of them have the shrine of the Constantinian Holy Sepulchre and Calvary depicted on them. It is believed that they were presented as a gift from Pope Gregory the Great to Queen Teodolinda of the Lombards around the year 600 AD. Their origin is clearly from the Holy Land, although the artistic production is usually assigned to the Syrian area. Even in the Franciscan Museum of Jerusalem, one will find some pottery and lead eulogies.

The main novelty of this recent acquisition is that the donated object is not really one of those flasks, but rather a mould for their production. According to the information possessed, the mould was discovered in Jerusalem, in Siloam, a few decades ago. The provenance of the mould is sure proof that the city of Jerusalem was an important centre for the production of these “ampullae”. The conclusion is confirmed by the fact that half of another mould was found at a nearby place during excavations conducted in the Latin cemetery on Mount Zion at the beginning of the twentieth century. This fragment is also on display in the Biblicum museum, and is very similar in terms of material, shape and measures, but without the iconographic component. It was either intended only for shaping the back of the flasks or it was an unfinished piece.

The newly presented mould presents on one side Abraham with halo and long, flowing beard. The character's name is specified in writing by a circular inscription: "Eulogia of Abraham." The scene is a classic one representing the Patriarch ready to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22:1-14). The Bible specifies that God then showed to Abraham how to proceed with the sacrifice of a ram, in place of that of the child. The event occurred on Mount Moriah, a place that Jewish tradition identifies with the Temple, but Christian authors rather link with Calvary. In this way they set a direct connection with the death of Jesus, the new Isaac and new lamb, sacrificed on the altar of the cross. The second side of the mould shows the prophet Daniel, also identified by the inscription, repeated twice, and accompanied by the title "Agios", meaning "holy", with the addition of a cross. Daniel, in Persian dress, stands with his hands raised in a gesture of prayer, while the lions, threatening but harmless to him, sit at his feet (Dn 6:1-29). The episode shows how God can liberate the faithful from death. Interestingly, you can see these same scenes also in the modern mosaics of the chapel of the Crucifixion in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre.

The item was donated to the Museum by a generous collector from Texas, Mr. Erich Spangenberg, thanks also to the dedicated involvement of one of the best-known dealers in antiquities of the Old City who served as an intermediary.