Thursday, 4 December 2008

Government uses brothers as scapegoat in murder;
officials claim violence not sectarian.
December 1 (Compass Direct News) - Two Coptic Christians wrongfully arrested for killing a Muslim during the May 31 attack on Abu Fana monastery in Egypt have been tortured and sent to a detention camp so authorities could try to extract a false confession, their lawyer said.Egyptian authorities sent brothers Refaat and Ibrahim Fawzy Abdo to El Wadi El Gadid Detention Camp near the Egypt-Sudan border on Nov. 22. A week earlier they were bailed out pending their court case - but never released - and held in a Mallawi police station until their transfer to the camp.
The inauguration of the The Coptic Culture Centre and St Mark Public Library - Abyssia Cairo

Friday 14 November saw Pope Shenouda III inaugurate the first phase of the project of the Coptic Orthodox Culture Centre and the Saint Mark Public Library in Anba Rweiss grounds in Abbasiya, Cairo.The story of the centre began long before, though, with the pope issuing a decree on 14 November 2000-14 November is the anniversary of the seating of Pope Shenouda III-for the establishment of a Coptic cultural centre and library. Now the eight-storey building has been completed and the project is on to a fine start.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Church of St Mark of Alexandria

There is a very interesting article on the US Copts website on the Church of St Mark in Alexandria - go to the following link to read the full article-

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Friends of the Coptic Museum Cairo

For those of you out there who are unaware, the Cairo Coptic museum - recently re-opened after a long closure - has a 'Friends of' association. The second and most recent newsletter has just been produced, and you may access their site here:

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Pope Shenouda III now back in Cairo

Pope Shenouda Receives State VIPs and the US Ambassador
By Amr Bayoumi 23/ 10/ 2008
Orthodox Pope Shenouda III received on Tuesday evening some State officials, ministers, governors, political personalities and editors in chief.
They went to the Pope’s residence at the Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo to congratulate him on his return to Egypt after a 4-month treatment trip to the US.The delegation included, among others, the Speakers of the People’s Assembly and the Shoura Council, some ministers and the US Ambassador to Egypt.
The chairman of the Church’s media committee, Bishop Mark, denied rumors that the US ambassador talked to the Pope about some sectarian incidents which happened during his absence and about the imprisonment of a priest for five years on charges of forgery.
Bishop Mark stressed the visits only aimed to welcome the Pope back.
“Even the Holy Synod has not decided yet when it will hold its next session, as we are now focusing on the Pope’s health and celebrating his return” he said.
The Vice-Chairman of the Milli [Confessional] General Committee Tharwat Bassili confirmed the bishop’s words saying: “The Pope and the delegation just had some good time.”

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Islamic extremists published a call for jihad against monasteries of Wadi-El-Natrun

I was in fact at Wadi natrun last saturday and saw no evidence of the below

Monday, September 15, 2008

Muslim Extremists Call for Violence against Christian Monasteries in Egypt
O people of Islam come to martyrdom in Ramadan…the month of repentance and forgiveness Groups of Islamic extremists have published a call for jihad against the monasteries of Wadi-El-Natrun on their websites.Their call comes soon after the rumor spread by the prominent Islamic figure Dr. Zaghloul El Naggar claiming that a Christian convert to Islam has been detained in a Wadi-El-Natrun monastery and subsequently murdered by the Coptic church after refusing to denounce Islam. It is worth noting that the woman in question had declared four years ago that she never converted to Islam and that she was “born a Christian and will die a Christian” El Naggar made his accusation in an interview with Egyptian newspaper “Al-Khamis” and failed to provide any evidence to support his claims. Unfortunately this isn’t the first instance where Dr. El Naggar makes unsubstantiated accusations against the church and Christian community of Egypt. Last year he claimed that the church is secretly proselytizing to Muslims and converting them to Christianity in large numbers. He also claimed that he knows of the hideouts where these christenings take place and that he has documentations to support his claims. To this date he has not provided any evidence to support either claim. It seems that there is no need for providing evidence to incite extremists to demand revenge especially during the month of Ramadan “the month of repentance and forgiveness” according to the extremist website. The emotive call to jihad is demanding of Muslims to wake up and strike the infidel Jews and Christians with a fist of iron. As well as blowing up the monasteries of the “murderous Christians” and reducing them to ashes, they are demanding Egyptian Muslims rise up and attack the Israeli embassy and also the building that houses the office of State Security

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Expatriate Copts Denounce Egypt to International Organizations because of Abou Fana Monastery

20 expatriate Coptic organizations called on the international community to investigate immediately into Abou Fana incidents. A statement posted on the Internet and signed by many of these organizations says that this call is due to the threats that these incidents pose on international peace and security.
The statement also demands that Copts’ rights in general and Abou Fana monastery in particular not to be dealt with through informal meetings.According to the statement, the Holy Synod has made six claims, namely: releasing all Copts being detained unjustly; arresting the assaulters who have been reported and taking legal measures against them so that these people and others may be prevented from carrying out new assaults that jeopardize social peace in Egypt; providing the truth about the incident (regarding the assaulters’ agreement to commit the crime)
and all the details of the repeated assaults on the monastery monks and their possessions; building the entire wall of the monastery under State’s supervision and surveillance so that other assaults may be avoided in the future.
The Synod also calls for this wall to include the archaeological sanctuary, the farm, the graveyard and the isolated cells and demands compensation to the monastery for the damages and robbery it has suffered.
The statement calls on concerned parties to hold on to the law and its international criteria based on respect for human rights and not on informal meetings that do not suit a civilized State like Egypt.


Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Egypt Police Use Violence to Block Church Repair

By Ethan Cole
Christian Post Reporter
Mon, Aug. 25 2008 05:25 PM EDT

An Egyptian police reportedly struck three women while trying to stop them from repairing the only church in the area, a human rights group said.
The three Coptic Christian women were taking sand into the Archangel Michael Church in the village of Deshasha, south of Cairo, to fix the church’s cracked floor when the policeman assigned to guard the church hit them, reported the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) last week.
“The worrying rise in sectarian tension we've seen in Deshasha is a direct result of violations committed by the police,” said EIPR director Hossam Bahgat, in a statement. “This incident must be investigated and those responsible held accountable.”
According to the women (who requested to remain anonymous), the policeman refused to allow the women to take the sand into the church, telling them “You won’t bring one grain of sand into the church but over my dead body.”
After the Aug. 17 incident, rumors spread that the Copts had locked the policeman inside the church, beat him, and tore his clothes. As a result, several Copts – both men and women – said they were threatened by local Muslims and were afraid to leave their homes.
Moreover, six Coptic youths were arrested by police on Aug. 17 and 18 to be interrogated on charges of assaulting a public servant and using violence to prevent him from doing his duty. They were later released after questioning

Monday, 25 August 2008

International Coptic conference Cairo - change of venue

For those of you who are interested and for those of you who are going, due to circumstances beyond the control of the organiser, there has beena sudden change of venue.

The information I paste below:

"The congress meet­ings –including the ceremonial opening on Sunday night (8:30–10:30 pm) – will not take place at the Sonesta Hotel as planned, but rather at the CopticPatriarchate (Anba Rueiss Deir, Ramses Avenue, in Abbas­siya). We re­gret any and all inconvenience. For those participants who will stay at the So­nesta Hotel, there will be bus transportation to and from thePatriar­chate throughout each day of the congress (although as a matterof fact it will be best to plan to spend the entirety of each day at thePatriarchate)..."


"Congress registration at the Sonesta Hotel will begin on Saturday 13September in the late af­ternoon, ca. 4:00 pm, as previously announced,but it will end at 8:00 pm. Look for a sign in the hotel lobby.Registration will recommence at the Patriarchate on Sunday 14 Sep­temberat about 5:00 pm and run until 8:00 pm, after which (8:30 to 10:30 pm)there will be the ceremonial opening of the congress at thePatriarchate. There will be bus transportation from the Sonesta Hotel tothe Patriarchate, returning to the hotel after the opening ceremony.Congress registration will reopen on Mon­day morning (15 Septe"mber) at7:00 am at the Patri­archate, and the first plenary session will beginthere at 9:00 am.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Settlement and Separation - Abu Fana Monasterly land dispute

Missing the mark

A settlement of the Abu Fana Monastery land dispute, based on the ruling of an ad-hoc committee, was reached this week. The Coptic Orthodox Church relinquished 95 feddans (25 of cultivated land within the grounds of the Abu Fana Monastery and 70 of fallow land in the vicinity of the monastery), grudgingly, according to some Coptic clergy and laity. Moreover, a separating wall surrounding the monastery has been erected.

The ad-hoc committee established by the authorities to resolve the dispute was headed by Minya Governor Ahmed Diaaeddin and included leading Muslims and Copts such as Minya MP Alaa Hassanein and Mallawi businessman Eid Labib, as well as representatives of the monastery and of the Bedouin Arabs involved in the land dispute.

"Everything is now settled and everyone is content," Hassanein told Al-Ahram Weekly. "Christians and Muslims live side by side in peace and harmony."Speaking from the site of the disputed land, Hassanein explained that with the erection of the separation wall the monks would feel more secure as they carried out their activities.

Whether that will satisfy the firebrand politicians, both Coptic and Muslims, at home and abroad, who aimed to make political capital out of the unfortunate incident, remains unclear. Certainly the spat over Abu Fana has left some Copts embittered.

See teh above page for the full story.

Photograph of Bagawat


An exceptional black and white photograph of Bagawat in Kharga. Here's the caption, but go to the above page to see the photograph:

The Necropolis of Bagawat is a reminder of one of the most central battles of early Christianity; the dispute over the nature of Jesus. The 5th century bishop Nestorius was exiled to Bagawat (as the village was called) for having claimed that only one of Jesus' natures had suffered on the cross; the earthly nature, not the divine.

The large extent of the Necropolis of Bagawat is the result of his and his supporters' exile. The tombs here are believed to indicate that worship of the dead was continued in a Christian style.

There are 263 mud-brick chapels climbing up a ridge, the oldest dating back two centuries before Nestorius, the last dating back to the 7th century.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

20th Annual Egyptian Festival in Cleveland

St Mark's Coptic Orthodox Church

The 20th Annual Egyptian Festival is opening at St Mark's in Cleveland (U.S.) is to take place between Friday 22nd August and Sunday 24th August 2008. A friend of mine attends this every year although she is not a Cleveland resident and not a member of the Coptic church - she says that it is a great experience, with a bazaar selling items that you'd find in a souk, excellent food and music and some special exhibits.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Pope Shenouda’s Recovery Photographs, Ohio

If you wish to view photographs of the recovery of Pope Shenouda's recent operation please visit
David Bebaway's weblog here

Saturday, 16 August 2008

The Coptic Conundrum

American Thinker (by Raymond Ibrahim)

Why are Egypt's Coptic Christians so apathetic about their persecution?

The other night flipping through Arabic satellite stations, I came across a Coptic man who was lividly discussing the "Coptic question." His name was George Sa'ad, and he was speaking on the famous Arabic show, Al-Bayt Baytak, which airs on Al-Masriya ("The Egyptian"). It quickly became apparent, however, that his objections were not directed at Egypt's radicals or even the government; no, he was upset with the "trouble-making" Copts of the diaspora, particularly those living in the West. Sa'ad, a member of the Itihad al-Misriyin in Canada, (the "Egyptian Union") was claiming that there is no real problem in Egypt, and that it is the Western Copts who are creating all this "propaganda."

When the (Muslim) host asked him point blank what he would like to see changed in Egypt, all Sa'ad could muster saying was, "Certainly, there are things that need to be fixed!" He kept repeating this without once explaining what those "things" could be. When further pushed to explain, he said he'd like to see Copts have more influence on the Egyptian media -- just a bit more.

No talk however of the recent attacks Copts in Egypt have been exposed to -- such as the Abu Fana monastery raid, where Muslims attacked and abducted monks, tortured them and tried forcing them to spit on the cross and embrace Islam; or the repeated phenomenon of Muslims abducting young Coptic girls, raping and forcing them into conversion; or the recent slayings of Coptic store clerks; or the day-in-day-out discrimination Copts encounter in all walks of life.

See the above page for the full story.

Exhibition: More re fake Coptic items at the Brooklyn museum

Yahoo! News

The Brooklyn Museum, which recently announced its prized collection of stone sculptures from ancient Egypt was cluttered with fakes, is planning an exhibit with these pieces to raise awareness of forgeries in the world's art collections.

"We really have to face the fact that mistakes are made in museums just as they are made anywhere else," Edna Russmann, curator of the museum's Egyptian, classical, and ancient Middle Eastern art, said this week. "Museums are in the habit of hiding these things away."
The exhibit, "Unearthing the Truth: Egypt's Pagan and Coptic Sculpture," is set to open next February.

Russmann says she was long suspicious about some of the museum's 4th to 6th century Coptic, or Christian Egyptian sculptures, acquired before she joined the museum. Some scholars had already raised doubts about their authenticity and several years ago she decided to put the question to rest.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Pope Shenouda Cancels Press Conference on Abu Fana

By Amr Bayoumi- Said Nafie and Teresa Kamal Washington- Soad Amin
Pope Shenouda III has cancelled a press conference that was scheduled to be held yesterday about the Abu-Fana Monastery crisis and the outcome of the efforts by the ad-hoc committee formed to settle the crisis.The Pope granted the committee three days to renegotiate and reach a final solution, noting that the conference will be held in Cairo in case the committee failed.
The Malawi Diocese in Menya had earlier announced a press conference entitled ‘Revealing Truths’, during which a documentary about kidnapping and torturing monks at the hands of Bedouins would be shown.
Spokesman for the diocese Paula Anwar said the Pope’s decision came after reaching an agreement with official bodies regarding settlement of the dispute over land, provided that the criminals in the monastery incidents should be brought to justice.

Full article here:

Sunday, 10 August 2008

The dispute surrounding Abu Fana Monastery

Al Ahram Weekly by Reem Leila

The ad-hoc committee formed on 30 July to seek an end to the conflict that erupted between Bedouin Arab tribesmen and monks at the historic Abu Fana Monastery in Mallawi has ruled that the construction of a wall surrounding the monastery be resumed amid tightened security measures.

The committee, which was headed by Minya Governor Ahmed Diaaeddin and included Minya MP Alaa Hassanein, Mallawi businessman Eid Labib, representatives of the monastery and of the Bedouin Arabs involved in the dispute, decided the monks should control the northwestern areas of the monastery while the Arabs will have rights to the eastern and northern areas. Both parties are now obliged to put the agreement into action, says Hassanein. The committee has also stipulated that anyone failing to abide by its findings be fined an amount that has yet to be decided. Diaaeddin added that the committee recommended that any wall surrounding the monastery include only the original archaeological site, while a second wall will be built around Christian tombs close to the monastery. "A gate will be built, to be supervised by the monastery," he said. The committee's decisions, says Diaaeddin, carry the force of law.

The committee also stipulated that "Pope Shenouda III should work on convincing expatriate Copts to halt demonstrations under the claim Copts are being persecuted, which harms Egyptians, both Muslims and Copts," according to Diaaeddin. "They do not know our social and political climate, and their actions foment internal sedition," he said, adding that it was unacceptable to stage anti-Egyptian demonstrations

The Coptic Church is unhappy with the proposed settlement.

See the above page for the full story.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

International Congress of Coptic studies Cairo

A reminder that the ninth International Congress of Coptic studies is being hosted at the Sonesta Hotel, Nasr City Cairo, from September 14th to 21st

More information from the Association's website here:

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Egyptian Demotic

Egyptian Demotic

The chronologically penultimate variety of the Egyptian language is known as Demotic. Demotic is the most cursive script developed by the Egyptians. This stage of the language has, in many ways, connections to the preceding stage, Late Egyptian, and its successor, Coptic. Despite these affinities, demotic is a complete separated stage of ancient Egyptian language.

The Practical Guide to the Grammar of Egyptian Demotic is a learning tool for those who wants to start the study of the late stage ancient Egyptian language in a highly cursive script known as Demotic. In use from ca. 650 B.C. until the middle of the fifth
century A.D., Demotic served as the medium for a wide variety of text types. These include texts such as business and legal documents, private letters and administrative inscriptions, and literary texts, including not only narrative texts and pieces of wisdom literature, but also religious and magical texts and scientific texts dealing with topics such as astronomy, mathematics, and medicine. Demotic texts thus not only provide important witnesses for the development of ancient Egyptian linguistic and paleographical traditions but also constitute an indispensable source for reconstructing the social, political, and cultural life of ancient Egypt during a fascinating period of its history. Once you finish the entire book, you will have a great
foundation to read, translate and understand, with the help of a dictionairy and much effort, all those texts and get into the life and culture of late Ancient Egyptians.

This publication in an online version is offered as a series of PDF files in the Grammar page.

Egypt Churches Reject Potential US Intervention

Assyrian International News Agency

The split in Coptic opinion over foreign interference in Egypt's internal affairs once more reared its head Monday, as international Coptic organizations called for American action to protect Christians living in Egypt.

Senator Frank Wolf, Virginian Republican, introduced resolution 1303 on July 24, 2008. The resolution, as stated in a press release from the Coptic Assembly of America, "calls on the Egyptian government to respect human rights and religious freedoms" and urges the American government to put pressure on the Egyptian government with regards to this.

The demands include the release of political prisoners such as Ayman Nour, but it is the call to cease "harassment of religious minorities" that forms the backbone of the resolution.

After rallying for two months, it was announced Monday that the resolution has gained the required support from Congressmen to deliver it to Congress. Mandarins within Egypt's Christian Church, however, have expressed strong opposition to what many see as unnecessary and damaging interference in Coptic affairs. "It is true that Christians suffer many problems in Egypt, but this does not warrant a plea for foreign interference, as the necessary channels exist here in Egypt," Akram Alamie, media spokesperson for the Protestant Church, told Daily News Egypt."It is true that legally, Christian religious channels do not have permission to broadcast on state Egyptian networks [namely Nilesat], but problems can be aired through appearing on opposition channels.

See the above page for the full story.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Coptic Research website updated


Howard Middleton-Jones has updated his Coptic Research pages. The Coptic Research project is ongoing research area with many useful links and articles on Coptic archaeology, art and history. There is a new Coptic forum for all matters of Coptic interest, and Howard has just spent many months checking the GPS locations of around 180 monastic sites. If you go direct to you will find a few examples and a link for the whole list which is in a word document.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Fake Coptic art in the Brooklyn Museum


Edna Russmann, a curator at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, has said that about one third of the museum's Coptic art — early Christian Egyptian art — collection is fake, the Independent reports. Although chemical testing on the works has not yet been completed, Russmann said she is fairly certain that 10 to 30 of the pieces are fake and that about half of the remaining objects have likely been recarved or retouched.

Russmann says she began to have doubts about the collection four years ago. According to the Art Newspaper, which first reported the story, Baltimore-based Byzantine specialist Gary Vikan first noted the possibility of fakes in the collection in the early 1970s but never went public with the concern.

The Independent, UK

Although some chemical testing on the works has yet to be completed, Dr Russmann
considers that 10 of the 30 examples of Coptic art – Christian imagery in limestone from Egypt dating between the late fourth century and AD641 – held by the museum are phoney. Moreover, about half the other pieces have probably been extensively recarved and retouched.

Part of the purpose of the exhibition will be to alert other US institutions to the possibility that they too have fake pieces in their collections. "There are lot of museums in this country that have maybe two or three or four pieces," she said.

New York Sun

Doubts about the Brooklyn Museum's sculptures date back at least to 1977, when a Byzantine art scholar who is now the director of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Gary Vikan, argued that they were forgeries in a lecture he delivered at Columbia.But if the existence of the fakes is old news, where and by whom they were made remain mysterious.
According to a 2001 article by a former curator at the Brooklyn Museum, Donald Spanel, a large number of fakes appeared on the market beginning in the late 1950s, offered by dealers mostly in Switzerland and in New York. One New York dealer, Jerome Eisenberg, acknowledged in a phone interview that he had sold the museum one piece now considered to be fake, a roundel with a border of palm fronds and a central bust. The museum acquired the piece in 1960.
Asked where he bought the roundel, Mr. Eisenberg said that he purchased it from a "very reliable, very ethical" dealer in Cairo, a Copt named Kamel Hammouda. Asked if he knew where Mr. Hammouda got the sculpture, Mr. Eisenberg said that it was against the rules of the trade at the time to ask such questions.

See the above links for the full stories

Friday, 4 July 2008

The Intellectual Consequences of Collecting Coptic Art

Looting Matters (David Gill)

Following on from recent reports about fact Coptic art held in museum collections, David Gill has made the brief point that he and Christopher Chippindale have been making for many years - which is that "Collecting recently-surfaced antiquities (ancient or of modern creation) has intellectual consequences for the study of the ancient world," a point which they initially made with regard to Cycladic figures in an article entitled Material and Intellectual Consequences of Esteem for Cycladic Figures (American Journal of Archaeology 97, 1993).

Anyone who has looked at Predynastic rchaeology in Egypt is well aware of the problem too - the number of unprovenanced palettes, labels, figurines and ceramics is quite staggering and with many of them it is unknown whether they are genuine or not. I was told recently that a set of "Predynastic" figurines in the British Museum are now considered to be fakes - which was more than a shame for the researcher friend who was planning to use them in part of his work! And the Harrogate Vase is a good case in point.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Fake Coptic art in the Brooklyn Museum?


Edna Russmann, a curator at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, has said that about one third of the museum's Coptic art — early Christian Egyptian art — collection is fake, the Independent reports. Although chemical testing on the works has not yet been completed, Russmann said she is fairly certain that 10 to 30 of the pieces are fake and that about half of the remaining objects have likely been recarved or retouched.Russmann says she began to have doubts about the collection four years ago. According to the Art Newspaper, which first reported the story, Baltimore-based Byzantine specialist Gary Vikan first noted the possibility of fakes in the collection in the early 1970s but never went public with the concern.

The Independent, UK

Although some chemical testing on the works has yet to be completed, Dr Russmann
considers that 10 of the 30 examples of Coptic art – Christian imagery in limestone from Egypt dating between the late fourth century and AD641 – held by the museum are phoney. Moreover, about half the other pieces have probably been extensively recarved and retouched.

Part of the purpose of the exhibition will be to alert other US institutions to the possibility that they too have fake pieces in their collections. "There are lot of museums in this country that have maybe two or three or four pieces," she said.

Saturday, 31 May 2008

Exhibition: Coptic fabrics on display in Florida, U.S.

Creative Loafing (Megan Voeller)

There's also a press release in PDF format on the gallery's website.

Unlike any other gallery or museum in the area, Ybor's Brad Cooper Gallery takes a foray into the fiber arts of the ancient world with an exhibit of Coptic textiles curated by Egyptologist Dr. Robert Bianchi. The roughly 20 woven fragments on display, which date to 400-800 A.D., offer a deep historical context for the mostly contemporary weavings on view in other local exhibitions. To be sure, the ancient Egyptians were proficient weavers of plain flax long before the cotton and wool weavings of the Coptic period were produced, but these cryptic relics -- characterized by intricate patterns, color and human and animal figures -- mark an evolutionary jump in the complexity of the craft.

The Copts, early Christians native to Egypt, were a multicultural group, steeped in classical Greek culture -- not only its mythology but the Greek practice of dyeing, spinning and weaving with wool and cotton fiber -- as well as emerging Christian iconography.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Modernity meets monasticism in Egypt's desert

Yahoo! News (Will Rasmussen)

I (Andie) met Ruwais St Anthony in 2006 - and as well as being a very good communciator he is certainly gregarious. The monastery is an amazing place. Tour guides are not permitted to explain the monastery and this is a job that the designated monks carry out very effectively. If you are visiting St Anthony's Monastery you should make sure to visit The Monastery of St Paul at the same time - it is quite near and it has a very different feel to it. Here's what Will Rasmussen has to say:

A speck of green in a sea of sand, St. Anthony's Monastery in Egypt welcomes those seeking God in silence broken only by the whisper of the wind. Monks at what is considered by many to be the world's oldest active Christian monastery still rise before dawn to chant and pray just as their predecessors did for more than 1,500 years.

Now, they also carry mobile phones, send e-mails and maintain a website (, embracing modernity that has helped sustain the ancient monastery, nestled beside a spring where Egypt's eastern desert meets the craggy Red Sea mountains.

But the changes have sent some monks fleeing to a more austere existence in nearby mountain caves."There is nothing wrong with microwaves or mobile phones -- they save time," Egyptian monk Ruwais el-Anthony, who has lived at the monastery for more than 30 years, said through a bushy white beard. "But God will ask you what you have done with the time that was saved."

The monastery, which was founded in 356 AD, has survived Bedouin raids, the Islamic conquest of Egypt, and wars between Egypt and Israel that turned the area into a combat zone.Almost all the monks here are Egyptian Coptic Christians, a minority faith in the most populous Arab country, which is about 90 percent Muslim. Most Christians in Egypt belong to the Coptic Orthodox church, which gives allegiance to its own Pope in Egypt, Shenouda III.

Once closed off from marauding Bedouins behind towering white stone walls, the monks now open iron doors, engraved with Coptic writing, to busloads of tourists and

The monks raise chickens, grow fruit, and lead tour groups through the compound's 15th century church, which is built above the oldest monk cells ever discovered, dating from the fourth century, the monks say.

Monks believe a recently discovered grave under the church is that of St. Anthony himself. "When I came here, it was very primitive and totally isolated," monk Athansious el-Anthony, 62, said.When he first arrived in the late 1960s, the only visitors were Egyptian soldiers demanding water during Egypt's war with Israel. The monastery was near the front-lines of fighting in the war, which began in 1967.

Now, a new road through the desert brings busloads of visitors, most from Europe and Russia. Only the most gregarious of the 120 monks at St. Anthony's deal with visitors. The others isolate themselves in their rooms or spend their days praying in the caves.

See the above page for the full story.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Coptic icon of Saint Mark's Church, Azbakya, Cairo

Al Ahram Weekly

The Coptic Orthodox Church celebrated the entry of the Holy Family into Egypt on 24 Bashans of the Coptic calendar -- which coincided with 1 June. The above-pictured ancient icon, dating back to the first century AD, was reproduced from an original icon that was illustrated by Saint Luke, The Physician. The original icon depicts the Virgin Mary holding the Infant Jesus, while John the Baptist was kissing Christ's feet, and beside him a lamp, which is a symbol of Christ himself.

The reproduced icon exists in the Church of the Virgin Mary known by the name Al- Ezbaweya), which is in the neighbourhood of Saint Mark Church in Azbakya district of Downtown Cairo.

According to tradition, the site where the church today stands, Ezba (or a farm) was owned by a benevolent man, who was sowing watermelon seeds, and kindly hosted the Holy Family and afforded them water from a well -- which still stands in the grounds of the church.

See the above page for the rest of the story.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Faiyum monastery a prey to time

Egypt Daily Star News (David Stanford)

We are on our bellies now, crawling through silky-fine sand, watching the shadows for vipers and scorpions. Inches above our heads is a huge rock, the roof of a collapsed chamber, supported by walls cut from soft, rather crumbly sandstone.

Ahead of me, my companion switches on his head torch and lights up the chamber, revealing the object of our search. Around the walls, just below the ceiling is a layer of plaster, and on it some painted images, the heads of religious figures, saints or apostles perhaps. One bears a striking resemblance to traditional images of Jesus.

We take photographs until the sand causes my camera to seize up, and then return to the fresh air above.

My companion is Amir Milad, a desert guide of many years experience, and he has brought me to Deir Abu Lifa, an abandoned Coptic monastery in the Western Desert north of Fayoum. Dating back to the early days of Coptic Christianity, the monastery is cut into an outcrop of the Qatrani mountain; a remote place in which monks could lead the contemplative life safe from persecution by the Byzantine Eastern Roman ulers. The name points to the saint assumed to have founded it, Abu Lifa, also known as Abu Banukhm or St. Panoukhius.

See the above page for the full story.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Coptic Graffiti and Early Christian Impressions of the Past

What's New in Papyrology?

The abstract of a forthcoming lecture by Jennifer Westerfeld, which highlights some important points itself, and is accompanied by a photograph that amply illustrates the point being made: Spray-painted across walls or scratched onto the windows of subway cars, graffiti is often seen as a modern, urban phenomenon. However, the practice of writing graffiti actually goes back many thousands of years, and graffiti from the ancient world can be a valuable source of information for modern historians, giving us greater insight into how the ancients interacted with local landscapes. This talk will draw on recent fieldwork at Abydos and sites in Egypt's Kharga Oasis to discuss how Christian graffiti from the late antique period (roughly 350-750 CE) reflect changing attitudes towards sacred space and can help us reconstruct early Egyptian Christians' impressions of the Pharaonic monuments that still dominated the landscape at that time.

It's nice to see the ways in which graffiti can be useful! Details of the lecture by Jennifer Westerfeld, in Chicago at the end of March, are on the above page. A short bio of Westerfeld is also shown on the above page.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Of Fayoum's mummies and churches

eTurboNews (Hazel Heyer)

Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) announced last week a Russian-American archaeological mission has unearthed a number of well-preserved Graeco-Roman mummies covered in cartons. They made the discovery during a routine excavation work at the Deir el-Banat necropolis in Fayoum. . . .

Rather than the mummies, Fayoum may be known more for its religious history. Villages in Fayoum support previous findings about Roman persecution by Christians in Egypt. Archeological remains from this persecution are not well known but are on display. Coptic Christian crosses from this period can be found in caves in Fayoum, the same ones crosses visitors find in pharaonic tombs in Luxor, and the temple of Dendera near Qena. These locations probably served as hiding places for Christians during the Roman persecution.

The period between the year 200 and the council of Chalcedon (451) was a period of flourishing for the Coptic Orthodox Church. In spite of the Roman persecution of Christians the church continued to grow. The persecutions were most severe during the emperor Diocletian’s reign (284-311). The size of the Christian persecution in Egypt was probably larger than in other countries because of the size of the Christian community in Egypt.

See the above page for the full story.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Coptic Christmas

In the Coptic Orthodox religion Christmas takes place on the 29th of "Kiahk" (a Coptic month), which is equivalent to the 7th of January. Here's the Wikipedia explanation of the dissonance between the two dates:

Until the 16th century, 25 December coincided with 29 Koiak of the Coptic calendar. However, upon the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, December 25 shifted 10 days earlier in comparison with the Julian and Coptic calendars and a further day each time the Gregorian calendar drops a leap day. This is the reason why Old-Calendrists (using the Julian and Coptic calendars) presently celebrate Christmas on January 7, 13 days after the New-Calendrists (using the Gregorian calendar), who celebrate Christmas on December 25.
The day has been a holiday for all Egyptians for the last four years.
I put together a site with some photographs from my 2006 visit to St Antony's and St Paul's Monasteries, if of interest, at
There are a couple of interesting articles on Al Ahram Weekly about Coptic Christmas. The photo was taken at St Antony's Monastery in the Eastern Desert, a once self-contained fortified village, which is now supplied from the outside world and receives visitors, but, like its neighbour, the Monastery of St Paul the Anchorite retains a very personal and intimate air.
From 2003:
For the first time ever, 7 January is expected to be a quiet, traffic- free day on the streets throughout Egypt. President Hosni Mubarak has announced that Coptic Christmas -- which falls at the end of the first week of the year -- will be a national holiday for all Egyptians -- not just Copts. Until the president issued his decree, Copts were entitled to take the day off, but otherwise it was business as usual.
From 2006:
Gamal Nkrumah assesses the coincidence of two Christmases, New Year's Eve and Eid Al-Adha, all occurring within the space of barely three weeks.
From 2006:
A Cairene family tells Hicham Safieddine why the New Year holiday season will never upstage the thrill of Coptic Christmas
From 2007:
On Coptic Christmas, Mohamed Wassim turned his lens to the Monastery of Saint Paul. Located in the Eastern Desert, Saint Paul Monastery remains one of the most popular in Egypt, attracting a regular horde of visitors tempted as much by the desert journey as by the architectural and spiritual experience. There is also an article on the Tour Egypt website which gives a good overview of Coptic Chrismas, and how it is celebrated.