Skip to comments.Ancient Christian "Holy Wine" Factory Found in Egypt
Posted on 06/19/2008 7:37:44 AM PDT by NYer
Two wine presses found in Egypt were likely part of the area's earliest winery, producing holy wine for export to Christians abroad, archaeologists say.
Egyptian archaeologists discovered the two presses with large crosses carved across them near St. Catherine's Monastery, a sixth-century A.D. complex near Mount Sinai on the Sinai Peninsula.
(See a map of the area.)
More presses are likely to be found in the area, which was probably an ancient wine-industry hub, according to Tarek El-Naggar, director for southern Sinai at Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.
Weeks after discovering the first wine press, excavators unearthed a nearly identical press with limestone walls, about 340 feet (100 meters) away. The find find that may indicate the presence of many other presses in the area, El-Naggar said.
The discoveries so far include the presses, clay vessels called amphorae, and grape seeds. Archaeologists reported red residue on some walls.
Although the presses have not yet been conclusively dated, archaeologists believe the tools were made between the fourth and sixth centuries A.D.
Several gold coins picturing the Roman Emperor Valens, who ruled from A.D. 364 to 378, were also found near the presses. The wine presses could date to the same period, archaeologists say.
Holy Wine Sent Abroad
El-Naggar said the coins were produced in Antioch in today's southeastern Turkey. Similar coins have been found in Lebanon and Syria—the areas of origin for many of the grape varieties used for wine in ancient Egypt.
The wine made near Sinai was stored in the amphorae, standard vessels of the time for shipping wine, olive oil, grain, fish, and other items.
The wine would have been considered to be from a holy site and used in religious ceremonies—such as the Christian Eucharist—at St. Catherine's Monastery and abroad.
"I think the monastery was using [these presses] to make the holy wine, because it's near to Mount Moses [Mount Sinai]," El-Naggar said, referring to the site where some believe the prophet Moses received the Ten Commandments from God.
Roots of Wine
The wine presses have 4-foot-square (1.2-meter-square) basins, where monks would have used their feet to smash grapes. A hole at one end of each press likely fed into a lower basin, which caught the pressed juice.
The structures are similar to presses used by ancient Egyptians, beginning as early as 3,000 B.C., when pharaohs started a royal winemaking industry in the fertile Nile Delta.
There is no evidence, however, that ancient Egyptians produced wine in this part of the Sinai Peninsula.
Early Christians likely managed to grow grapevines and palm trees at the winery site because—at more than 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) above sea level—it would have been cooler than the surrounding desert.
"The reason the wild grape did not grow [in Egypt] originally is because the climate was not conducive to it. But if you manage it with irrigation, you can grow grapes in these hot climates," said Patrick McGovern, of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, who was not involved in the new discovery.
An expert on ancient wine, McGovern said ancient Egyptian wine jars and stoppers often indicated the product's vintage, vintner, quality, and place of origin.
"Egypt," McGovern said, "has the earliest wine labels."
Fascinating find. I wonder if the Smithsonian will be covering it.
Wine — one of the glories of Christian civilization. Of course, Christian didn’t invent it, but we certainly perfected it through our many religious communities. And of course, it truly becomes the Precious Blood of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass!
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“I think the monastery was using [these presses] to make the holy wine, because it’s near to Mount Moses [Mount Sinai],” El-Naggar said, referring to the site where some believe the prophet Moses received the Ten Commandments from God.”
The Mohammedan has it about half right. Certainly the monks made the wine for the Eucharist; they also made it for drinking everyday. The fact that the monks made it at Sinai didn’t make it any more holy than wine made at any other monastery then or now. They made it there because that’s where they were!
So who dropped the gold coins?
The Monastery was originally ordered built by Empress Helen, the mother of Constantine the Great, but was actually built by Emperor Justinian to house the bones of St. Catherine of Alexandria.
St. Catherine's is also a formidable fortification, with granite walls 40 to 200 feet tall, surrounded by gardens and cypresses. Prior to probably the 20th century, the only entrance to St. Catherine's was a small door 30 feet high, where provisions and people where lifted with a system of pulleys, and where food was often lowered to nomads.
It has withstood numerous attacks over its 14 hundred year existence thus protecting a rich store of art, and today, while it is one of the oldest monasteries in the world, its original, preserved state is unmatched.
Of course! But this article is from National Geographic - and they want to introduce some intrigue.
Since reading Journey Back to Eden, the Egypt monasteries have taken on a new and fuller meaning.
Monk striking the wooden bell in the Bell Tower. The metal bells are only used on holy days and just before the holy liturgy
A Semandron is used to call the Monks to morning prayer
Too bad the web site does not have an imbeded .wav file :-)
“Since reading Journey Back to Eden, the Egypt monasteries have taken on a new and fuller meaning.”
An Egyptian Coptic girl is traveling to America in August to be married in our parish to her American fiance who is in the process of becoming Orthodox. Her father told him that he couldn’t marry his daughter unless he became Coptic. The fellow told the father that there are no Coptic parishes within 100+ miles. The old fellow said, “OK, Greek Orthodox”! And so it will be. Our parish will be their parish after the wedding
makes you wonder what it tasted like!
Nothing is more Orthodox than the simansis of the simandron.
If I recall the beat goes like this:
ta-TA-la-nda ta-TA-la-nda ta-TA-la TA-la TA-la-nda
Tasted sweet, just like holy wine does today. It’s very similar to twany port, with a bitter note and more full bodied.
There is a particular brand of this wine that exists in continuous production since 1050, made on the island of Cyprus. It is called Commanderia, first produced by the knights Templar that were stationed in Cyprus.
As one reviewer wrote:
In the end, this "spiritual journal" brings to Americans the rich spirituality of the Coptic monks in Egypt. This is by far an excellent book for anyone who wishes to view our Christian faith from a wise, monastic perspective and to be challenged to live out our faith in God more fully.
Available through Amazon.com
Strangely enough, the origins of wine-making are supposed to be in what is now Iran
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