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Bread Objects


3rd–4th century AD
Karanis, Egypt. U-M excavations, 1924. KM 3958

Remains of wheat crops and tools used for its cultivation were uncovered at Karanis, Egypt. Though other crops were also grown there, it is believed that wheat was at the core of the village’s agricultural production. Numerous fragments of ceramics and papyri that document the buying and selling of the grain have also survived and form a part of the Kelsey Museum’s collection.

Eucharistic Bread

19th century AD
Egypt. Bay View collection, 1971. KM 1971.2.250a

When used in communion, bread serves as the symbol of the union between man and God. The type of bread used in Christian liturgy, however, has been a point of contention between the various branches of Christianity. Some, like the Eastern Orthodox Church, insist on the use of leavened bread and have clear instructions on how the bread called prosphora, meaning “that which is offered,” should be prepared. Impressed with Christian symbols and motifs, this object is an example of such a baked loaf of bread.

Prosphora Seal

Wood, paint
Kelsey collections. KM 1992.1.1

This wooden seal was used to stamp loaves of bread before they were baked. The design “IC XC NI KA”—meaning “Jesus Christ conquers”—symbolizes the Body of Christ (the Lamb). The large square on the left honors the Virgin Mary, while the group of nine small triangles on the right commemorates the angels, prophets, apostles, martyrs, ascetics, and saints. A priest carefully cut out each squared section of this seal in preparation for the Eucharist.

Bread Stamps

Hand-tooled clay
9th–12th centuries AD
Fustat (Islamic Cairo), Egypt. ARCE donation, 1972. KM 1972.1.32, KM 1972.1.33

Unlike Christian ritual bread, bread made for daily consumption in Islamic lands used simple methods. Bread loaves were often baked in communal tannurs, or ovens. Surviving bread stamps are presumed to have been used by households to mark their loaves and distinguish them from those of other families placed in the shared tannurs. While these designs helped distinguish loaves of bread, the addition of patterns—which were pierced or cut into the surface—also made this staple food more visually appealing.

Bread Trough

Wooden dough-kneading trough at Saint John’s Monastery, Patmos, Greece.

Photo by George R. Swain, May 1920 (KM neg. no. 7.0423).

Bread at Market

Bread being sold in a market at Aintab (now Gaziantep), Turkey.

Photo by George R. Swain, January 5, 1920 (KM neg. no. KS 073.01).