The visual language of the Nubian Christians on the walls of their churches has left some images of a great value. To the most interesting belong the portraits of Nubian founders shown in the presence of their saint patrons. They can be seen on the walls of almost every religious establishment which preserved its pictorial decoration. The two murals found in a monastery at Old Dongola show the dark skinned founders in the presence of Christ or an Archangel. They stand frontally with bunches of leaved twigs or palm fronds in hands. Similar portraits of believers with twigs were also found on the walls of other churches in Nubia. The twigs seem to allude to Rev. 7,9 where a great multitude in white robes and palm branches in hands is mentioned standing before the throne of the Lamb. The fragment in Rev. hints at the Jewish feast of Sukkoth (the Tabernacles) and to the custom of bringing the bunches of twigs (lulav) to the temple altar to be checked by the archpriest. This agrarian feast mentioned in the Book of Exodus took on the eschatological meaning and was connected with messianic expectations of the Jews. For the Christian authors commenting on Exodus the events described in this book were the symbols of eschatological realities. The Sukkoth was a type of messianic kingship at the end of times, the huts built by Jews the type of resurrected bodies and the twigs the symbol of purity, virtue or, more generally, of good deeds which should be presented to God at the Last Judgment by the resurrected mortals. By representing themselves with the twigs in hands the Nubian donors wanted to express their hopes for being encountered among the elected worthy to see God face to face and to inherit the Kingdom of Heavens. By ordering the portrait to be painted near the effigy of the Archangel Michael, they were seeking a better possibility of turning to him with a personal appeal for intercession in the day of the Last Judgement.
Bozena Mierzejewska, Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie, al. Jerozolimskie 3, 00-495 Warszawa, Poland
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