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Theophilus and the Serapeum

Theophilus of Alexandria, (died 412) was Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt from 385 to 412. He is regarded as a saint by the Coptic Orthodox Church.

He was a Coptic Pope at a time of conflict between the newly dominant Christians and the pagan establishment in Alexandria, each supported by a segment of the Alexandrian populace.

In 391, Theophilus (according to Rufinus and Sozomen) discovered a hidden pagan temple. He and his followers mockingly displayed the pagan artifacts to the public which offended the pagans enough to provoke an attack on the Christians. The Christian faction counter-attacked, forcing the pagans to retreat to the Serapeum. A letter was sent by the emperor that Theophilus should grant the offending pagans pardon, but destroy the temple; according to Socrates Scholasticus, a contemporary of his, the latter aspect (the destruction of the temple) was added as a result of heavy solicitation for it by Theophilus.

Scholasticus goes on to state that :

Seizing this opportunity, Theophilus exerted himself to the utmost ... he caused the Mithraeum to be cleaned out... Then he destroyed the Serapeum... and he had the phalli of Priapus carried through the midst of the forum. ... the heathen temples... were therefore razed to the ground, and the images of their gods molten into pots and other convenient utensils for the use of the Alexandrian church[1]


The destruction of the Serapeum was seen by many ancient and modern authors as representative of the triumph of Christianity over other religions. When the philosopher Hypatia was lynched by an Alexandrian mob, they acclaimed Theophilus's nephew and successor Cyril as "the new Theophilus, for he had destroyed the last remains of idolatry in the city".[2]

Theophilus turned on the followers of Origen after having supported them for a time. He was accompanied by his nephew Cyril to Constantinople in 403 and there presided at the "Synod of the Oak" that deposed John Chrysostom.

Theophilus is portrayed in Flow Down Like Silver, Hypatia of Alexandria[1] by Ki Longfellow, a novel published in 2009.

Surviving works

  • Correspondence with St. Jerome, Pope Anastasius I and Pope Innocent I
  • Tract against Chrysostom
  • Homilies translated by St. Jerome (preserved in Migne)
  • Other homilies survive only in Coptic and Ge'ez translations.


  1. Socrates Scholasticus, The Ecclesiastical History, 16
  2. Chronicle of John of Nikiu
  • Charles, R. H. The Chronicle of John, Bishop of Nikiu: Translated from Zotenberg's Ethiopic Text, 1916. Reprinted 2007. Evolution Publishing, ISBN 978-1-889758-87-9.

External links

Preceded by
Timothy I
Pope of Alexandria
Succeeded by
Cyril I

Alexandria was the town he was pope in

ar:ثيوفيلس (بابا الإسكندرية) bg:Теофил Александрийски eo:Teofilo de Aleksandrio eu:Teofilo Alexandriakoa pt:Teófilo de Alexandria sv:Theofilos i Alexandria