A 1,500-year-old fragment of papyrus with Greek writing that refers to the biblical Last Supper and "manna from heaven" may be one of the oldest Christian amulets, say researchers. The fragment was likely folded up and worn inside a locket or pendant as a sort of protective charm, according to Roberta Mazza, who spotted the papyrus while looking through thousands of papyri kept in the library vault at the John Rylands Research Institute at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. "This is an important and unexpected discovery as it's one of the first recorded documents to use magic in the Christian context and the first charm ever found to refer to the Eucharist — the Last Supper — as the manna of the Old Testament," Mazza said in a statement.
The fragment likely originated in a town in Egypt. Carbon analysis dates the fragment to between 574 and 660. The discovery, which Mazza presented this week at an international conference on papyri at the university's research institute, reveals that Christians adopted an ancient Egyptian practice of wearing such charms to ward off danger. "This practice is not very far from nowadays use to wear necklaces with the cross or images of Jesus, Mary, or the saints, for protection," Mazza said. "In many Catholic churches nowadays believers are given holy pictures of the saints with a prayer on the back that you can bring along again for protection."
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