Based on the inscription on the vessels found by Kaufman (Eulogia tou agiou Mena = Remembrance of St. Menas), the vessels were intended as souvenirs of the saint. The location excavated was one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in the 5th and 6th centuries, and flasks like those found by Kaufman had been found for years in Africa, Spain, Italy, France and Russia. It was assumed that they contained oil, but now it is thought that they probably held water from the local well, and likely were supposed to have curative powers.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Menas was martyred under Emperor Diocletian in 295 (other sources say 309—there was more than one Menas in the first few centuries of the Common Era, and it is difficult to reconcile all the records). An Egyptian by birth, Menas had actually served in the Roman army, but left the army when he learned of the poor treatment of Christians by the empire. He went into retreat, engaging in fasting and prayer. He came out of retreat to proclaim the Christian faith in the middle of a Roman religious festival. He was dragged before the authorities, scourged and beheaded. Here is where the legend truly begins: supposedly, his body was to be burned, but the flames worked on it for three days without destroying it.
|"Menas flask" in the Louvre|
Later, the location was forgotten, but a shepherd noticed that a sick sheep fell on a certain spot and rose up cured. The story spread that this spot cured illnesses. When the leprous daughter of the Emperor Zeno (c.425-491) traveled there for a cure, she received a vision at night from St. Menas, telling her that it was his burial place. Her father had the body exhumed, a cathedral built, and a proper tomb prepared for St. Menas. A city and industry sprang up, since so many people came to be cured. Water from the well dug in that location began to be bottled for pilgrims and supplicants. These flasks were found in several countries, but it wasn't until Kaufman's 1905 expedition that their true origin was uncovered.