In the Coptic period, funerary stelae were part of the architectural layout of tombs, and funerary inscriptions kept alive the memory of the deceased among the living. Produced mostly in limestone and sandstone – although they are also found in marble, alabaster, granite, wood and terracotta – they were usually placed inside a niche dug out of the mound that covered the tomb or arranged within burial chapels, but were at times placed directly on the ground to cover the pit.
Homogeneous groups of funerary stelae, pertinent to different areas of the Egyptian territory, may be identified on the basis of their shape, the epigraphic formulae and iconography.
This stele has the typical characteristics of Middle Egyptian production. It is entirely without any figurative apparatus, and has 24 inscribed lines, partly fragmented, reproducing a text in a Coptic language defined as being of the “litanic” type, with a sequence of saints in hierarchical order. The highest rank is attributed to the two archangels, Michael and Gabriel, who are found at the beginning of the text. They are followed by the invocation of the Virgin Mary, the progenitors Adam and Eve, the 24 Elders, the Patriarchs, the Prophets, the Apostles, the Martyrs, the Confessors, the Archbishops and the Bishops, and then the list of holy monks, including Apollo, Phib and Anup, the saints of the so-called “triad” of Bawit, and also Macarius, Moses and Jeremiah. These proceed a formula asking for mercy towards the deceased, whose name is Teleme; this is followed by the date of death which is however no longer legible.
The stele was found by the renowned English archaeologist W.M. Flinders Petrie in 1913; although the context of its discovery is unknown, the mention of the saints of Bawit suggests that it may have come from a cemetery of the monastery located there.