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October 2014

A tiny papyrus fragment discovered in the University of Manchester’s John Rylands library has been identified as one the world’s earliest surviving Christian charms.

The 1500-year-old document uniquely contains some of the earliest documented references to the Last Supper and is believed to have been used as a protective charm.

Dr Roberta Mazza, research fellow of the John Rylands Research Institute, came across the amulet while working on thousands of fragments of unpublished historical documents that are kept in the library’s vaults. 

The document had been held at the library since around 1901, but its significance had not been realised until Dr Mazza spotted it. She said, ‘This is an important and unexpected discovery as it is 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’.