This seventh-century Coptic icon eloquently presents Christ in a unique light - not as king, teacher, or even the beloved, but as our friend. Holding the book of the Gospels, Jesus rests His arm on the shoulder of Saint Mina, a Coptic ascetic and martyr of the third century, with the Savior's words in the ornamental border below. The original of this icon is located at the Louvre in Paris.
Who was Saint Mina?
One of the most renowned of the Egyptian saints, Saint Mina (or Menas) was born to Christian parents in the late third century. He joined the Roman army at a young age and left three years later, seeking a hermetic life in the desert where he could devote his life to Christ. One day Saint Mina had a vision of angels bestowing glorious crowns upon the Christian martyrs. Longing to join their ranks, he hurried to the pagan ruler and declared his Christian faith. After merciless torture, he was finally put to death. Since that time his holy relics have worked countless cures, and in earlier centuries his reputation was well known throughout the Mediterranean world and beyond, as evidenced by the countless small clay bottles (used by pilgrims to carry oil or water blessed at his tomb) found by archeologists in Germany, Italy, Croatia, France, the Sudan, and Jerusalem.
A healer with a sense of humor
Before its destruction by the Moslems, the church in Egypt where Saint Mina's relics originally rested was visited by multitudes of people with various difficulties who came to the church and remained there until they were helped. Once a paralyzed man who was sleeping in the church had a dream in which Saint Mina told him he would be cured if he would crawl over to the women's area and grab hold of a certain mute woman and squeeze her as hard as he could. Upon awakening in the dead of night he proceeded to do so. The woman awoke and began to scream for help. Terrified, the man leapt to his feet and ran out of the church and across the desert - until he realized that he was no longer paralyzed and that the woman had been able to speak! So he returned to the church and told everyone about his dream. The miracle was recorded in the church annals.
Saint Mina defeats the Nazis
In June 1942 the German forces under the command of General Rommel were on their way to Alexandria when they halted at El Alamein (literally, the place of Mina). Nearby was a ruined church dedicated to the saint, said to house his relics.
At midnight on the the first night of battle, Saint Mina came out of his ruined church and appeared in the midst of the German camp at the head of a caravan of camels, exactly as he was depicted in one of the frescoes on the walls of the ruined churches. This astounding and terrifying apparition so undermined German morale that it contributed to the Allies' victory.
Later that year the patriarch of Alexandria celebrated the feast day of Saint Mina and gave thanks to God for this miracle. As a token of gratitude for their victory, the Allies offered the site to the patriarchate, and in 1959 the Church of Saint Mina was fully restored by the Coptic Christians.