Ampulla were vessels, used to carry water or oil, from sacred sites of pilgrimage. They were made in a number of materials, including terracotta, glass and metal. Vessels such as this were common, dedicated to St Menas. He was a Christian martyr, of Egyptian origin, who was a soldier in the Roman army from the 3rd century AD. According to historical references, having proclaimed his new faith, he was martyred around the year AD 309. As is typical of these ampullae, St Menas is usually depicted between two camels. According to the sources, camels carried the saint’s body, after his martyrdom, into the Libyan desert. Near Alexandria, on the edges of Lake Mariout, the camel refused to move any further. Taking this as a sign of God, St Menas was buried here.
Ampullae were used by pilgrims to carry holy water and oil from the sacred site of Abbu Menas, a town and monastic site. Abbu Menas became a place of healing and veneration and had pilgrims up until the 7th century.