In 1905, archeologists digging in the desert of Mareotis discovered thousands of little terra-cotta flasks with the inscription: EULOGIA TOU AGIOU MENA (Remembrance of Saint Menas). They had discovered the burial place of Menas, a third-century martyr.
It wasn't the first time such flasks had been seen. They had been found not only in Africa, but in Spain, Italy, France, and Russia, where they had been brought by pilgrims who had visited the shrine of Saint Menas. During the fifth and sixth centuries, it was one of the most famous shrines in the Christian world. It is thought to have been destroyed in the seventh century. Until the discovery of its ruins, with the thousands of flasks, the oil of Saint Menas was thought to have been oil contained in the lamps that burned at his shrine. As they excavated the shrine, they discovered the remains of a holy well. The oil of Saint Menas had actually been water from this well, given to the faithful as a remedy against bodily and spiritual ailments.
Menas, also known as Menas Kallikelados, Mena(s) of Egypt, Menas of Constantinople, Menas of Cotyaes, or Menas of Mareotis, was probably born in Egypt to Christian parents. He may have been a camel driver in his civilian life, but he is best-known as a soldier in the Imperial Roman army. During the persecutions of Diocletian and Maximian, Menas left the army, fearing for his own safety and reluctant to support a regime bent on persecuting him and his brothers in Christ.
He retired to the mountains, where he spent his time living as a hermit. But during a pagan festival, he made the mistake of coming down from the mountains to preach Christianity in Cotyaes, Phrygia. He was arrested and tried for his faith. They scourged, tortured, and finally beheaded him. He is often depicted with his hands cut off and his eyes torn out. He was brought back to Egypt by camel for burial.
The feast of Saint Menas is celebrated on November 11. He is the patron saint of the falsely accused, of peddlers, and of travelling merchants.