Length: 56.700 inches
Gift of the Byzantine Research and Publication Fund
Room 66: Ethiopia and Egypt
Wall painting of the martyrdom of saints
From a building at the Coptic town of Wadi Sarga, Egypt
Coptic period, 6th century AD
Two different styles, showing the martyrdom of two groups of saints
This wall painting is composed of two distinct elements. In the centre is a panel executed in red paint, consisting of a scene and Coptic inscription. The figures with raised arms are saints Ananias, Azarias and Misael, also known as 'the three children in the furnace'. They are accompanied by an angel. Their miraculous preservation from burning was used in Christian art as an illustration of the triumph of humans over death.
Arranged around this panel are the figures of Christian saints Damian and Cosmas, at a large scale, and their brothers Leontios, Eupredios and Anthinmos. Like the saints in the central panel, these individuals were martyred by burning. They were killed at Aegae in Cilicia during the persecution of Diocletian. According to accounts of their martyrdom, the Christians remained untouched by the flames of their pyre, while heathens were burned. The palmlike fronds around the feet of the figures probably represent flames.
The difference in style and use of colour suggests that the inner and outer scenes were executed by different artists. It is likely that the central panel was the original, with the outer figures added later. The inscription mentions another group of Christian martyrs, at Samalut, who are otherwise unknown.