Cross of Timotheos

From the cathedral at Qasr Ibrim, Egypt
Late 14th century AD

Iron benedictional cross from the grave of Bishop Timotheos

Nubia was converted to Christianity by a missionary expedition sent by the Byzantine emperor Justinian. An incentive to the Nubian rulers was that they would receive the support of Byzantium against their enemies. But Christianity brought a major change: the Nubian rulers were no longer considered divine, and their control over religious matters was transferred to bishops of the Christian Church.

Arab attempts to invade Nubia were unsuccessful and the country remained Christian long after Egypt was conquered in AD 641. Christianity in Nubia was strengthened by its affiliation with the Coptic Church in Egypt. Many Nubian bishops were appointed at Alexandria, where the Coptic patriarch had his seat. They controlled religious activity in Nubia from the major centres of Dongola, Faras and Qasr Ibrim. The cathedrals at these sites were decorated with paintings of saints, bishops and Biblical scenes and intricately carved columns and friezes.

The majority of burials at this time were not elaborate and were without grave goods. Clerics were buried in their robes of office, sometimes with pottery vessels perhaps containing holy water. Bishop Timotheos appears to have been unusual in wearing his travelling clothes, without the usual finery. This iron benedictional cross accompanied him to the grave. He may have died on the journey to take office at Qasr Ibrim. In addition to his cross, Bishop Timotheos was buried with two scrolls, one in Coptic and the other in Arabic (both now in Cairo). These scrolls take the form of Timotheos' 'letter of appointment' by the Coptic patriarch to his new See, and can be dated to AD 1372.

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More information


J.M. Plumley, The scrolls of Bishop Timotheo (London, Egypt Exploration Society, 1975)

J.H. Taylor, Egypt and Nubia (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)


Length: 54.000 cm

Museum number

EA 71955



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