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Tapestry with four brown squares in the center and brown bands at the bottom and top

A rectangular brown and beige tapestry is oriented with the longest side vertical. At the top, there is Coptic writing in the center, on either side of it a U-shaped symbol with a horizontal line through its center, and at either end of the top section a cross-like symbol. Below are two brown horizontal rectangular bands, the edges lined with red and green. Four brown squares occupy the center of the tapestry on beige fabric. Another two brown bands are near the bottom, but the colors are less vibrant as they seem more worn. The bottom section of the tapestry has more Coptic writing at the center, an ankh symbol on either side, and the same cross symbols as before at the ends.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Large Cover or Shroud
Textile Arts
Work Type
5th-6th century
Creation Place: Africa, Egypt
Byzantine period
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Wool and linen
Woven, tapestry weave
221.5 x 148 cm (87 3/16 x 58 1/4 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of The Hagop Kevorkian Foundation in memory of Hagop Kevorkian
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

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This large textile in tapestry and loop cloth is decorated with wide bands and panels in purple with dense designs of interlace executed in flying shuttle. At both ends of the textile, there are almost identical purple inscriptions. The beginning and the end of the inscriptions are marked with staurograms. On one end, the inscription is placed between two additional large blue ankhs. On the other end, the inscription is between large blue alphas containing purple crosses and ankhs; this inscription is the same as on the other end except it is missing the upsilon, nu, and the terminal ankh.

The large alphas and ankhs on the ends of the textile have been sewn into the covering, as can be seen by the gaps that have developed around them over time.

Only one edge of the covering has a red border.

Tapestry weave over 2 warps, also with linen loops of sehna knots. Warp: S-spun whitish wool (4-5 double warps per 1 cm). Wefts: S-spun undyed linen, S-spun purple, blue, und., green, red wool.

This textile is noteworthy for its large size and completeness. It also features inscriptions and combines tapestry woven bands and squares of interlace with large fields of loop pile. Several colors of loop pile are used.

The Greek inscription repeated at both ends of the textile is not easy to interpret. The first three letters may be ΧΜΓ, a common symbol among Christians in the Mediterranean world whose meaning has been much debated by scholars.1 The sequence of letters appears often at the beginning of documents and inscriptions in a wide variety of media from the fourth century on.2 Even though its meaning is not clear, it is most likely a Christian protective formula.

Following the initial three letters is most likely the name Sarapion (CAΡAΠIWN). The inscription that is the more complete of the two ends in the letters ΘΕȢΝ. This may be a modification of the name Theon, a very common name in Early Byzantine Egypt. We might interpret the entire inscription as a votive formula for the benefit of an individual named Sarapion Theon, or perhaps two individuals.

1. Stephen R. Llewelyn, “The Christian Symbol XMΓ, an Acrostic or an Isopsephism?” in New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity, Volume 8: A Review of the Greek Inscriptions and Papyri Published 1984-85 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1998) 156-168.

2. Brent Nongbri, “The Lord's Prayer and ΧΜΓ: Two Christian Papyrus Amulets,” Harvard Theological Review (2011): 59-68.

Publication History

  • "Pagan and Christian Egypt: Egyptian Art from the First to the Tenth Century A.D." (1941), Brooklyn Museum, p. 83, no. 262
  • Mary McWilliams and Jochen Sokoly, Social Fabrics: Inscribed Textiles from Medieval Egyptian Tombs, exh. cat. (Cambridge, MA, February 22, 2022), pp. 32, 60, 109-11, 117, 145-46, cat. 24

Exhibition History

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Verification Level

This record was created from historic documentation and may not have been reviewed by a curator; it may be inaccurate or incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at