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.