Sunday, 12 December 2010

A view of Cairo from the Patriarchate

A view of Cairo from the then unfinished cultural Centre in the Patriarchate - Bishop Dioscorus is looking out from a window while the building was under construction in September 2008

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Picture of the week

Aswan St.Marks Coptic Symposium February 2010 - the group at the Monastic site of Qubbat al-Hawa

Monday, 15 November 2010

Egyptian Security Attempts to Stop Construction of Church

(AINA) — Thousands of Copts staged a sit-in inside and outside the Church of the St. Mary in Talbiya, in the Pyramids area, since the morning of November 11, to protest the storming of the church premises by dozens of security forces to stop construction work and demolish stairs and toilets inside the church, despite the church having obtained the necessary permits.

For more information go here:

Monday, 1 November 2010

Egyptian Book of the dead Exhibition London

There is an exhibition of the Egyptian Book of the Dead at the British Museum, London, from November 4th to March 6th 2011 - this is a unique display and well worth seeing.

More information here:

Above Scene from the Book of the Dead of Hunefer. Egypt, c. 1280 BC

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Archbishop of Canterbury interview 2008 - Desert Fathers

Just a reminder for those who have not seen the video of my interview with Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, at Lambeth Palace, London in 2008, you can view the whole interview on the main Coptic research site by clicking on the photograph of Dr. Williams

The Archbishop of Canterbury has had a long time interest in the Desert Fathers and has visited many of the Coptic monastic and church sites in Egypt - He has also written much on the subject.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Coptic Art revealed - Exhibition Cairo November 2010 - January 2011

An exhibition of Coptic art called 'Coptic Art Revealed' will open at Amir Taz Palace Cairo, commencing 28th November 2010 until January 31st 2011.

Quote from Dr. Nadja Tomoum Project Manager and Chief Curator;

"More than 200 masterpieces of Coptic art will be displayed on around 400 m2: Colourful icons painted by the famous artists Yuhanna Al Armani, Ibrahim Al Nasikh and Anastasi Al Rumi, beautiful textiles, illuminated manuscripts from the Coptic Museum’s archives, an excerpt from the famous Nag Hammadi Library, stone and wooden friezes with intriguing designs as well as splendid metal objects and pottery, among other priceless items will give expression to important facets of the Coptic culture."

More information here:

Fortunately I will be in Cairo in January so - inshallah, will visit the exhibition

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Picture of the week

I am introducing a weekly image to upload onto the Coptic blog - while I have a considerable number of photographs from my travels in Egypt and elsewhere, please feel to contact me if you think you have a suitable picture relating to Egypt and Coptic culture, that others may find of interest.

This week's image is of myself and Bishop Martyros of Cairo and his colleague at the evening dinner of the 2008 conference of the International Association of Coptic Studies in Cairo.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Alexandria Coptic Conference summing up

The Coptic conference in Alexandria, September 21st - 23rd, 'Coptic life in Egypt' which was held in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina - the Library of Alexandria, Egypt, appeared to be a great success -
Unfortunately I was unable to attend, but I set up a live video conferencing link from Swansea University here in Wales, and followed all of the presentations that were filmed from the small theatre.

If you wish to look at a list of the abstracts you can download them here..

Jacques Van der vliet from Leiden gave a very good succinct introductory talk on Coptology and its importance to Egypt and the world, bringing in a diverse range of subject matter and new projects that will help to promote Coptic studies and the Coptic heritage in general.

There were a number of 'new faces' on the block so to speak, in the form of post graduates from a number of institutions who gave some interesting presentations outlining their current research - although perhaps a few lessons in public presentations/speaking may be called for as they did rather flash through the photographs and slides as if there were a fire in the theatre...having said that, the content was thorough and interesting.

A diverse range of subject areas were covered, including, architecture (both Coptic and Islamic) art, culture, history, the church, literature, language and texts.

The final keynote speech was given by Prof, Stephen Emmel, director of the Institute of Egyptology and Coptology at Muenster, Germany, and who is now in fact in Cairo for a year where has has the first chair in Coptology at the American University in Cairo.

Stephen gave an excellent talk on the future of Coptic Stidies, where areas of education, heritage and methods of dissipation of Coptic research were covered and discussed with some enthusiasm at the question and answer session.

Overall, the conference certainly birthed a few lively debates on topical issues, and helped to place the field of Coptology (Coptic studies) back on the map once more.

It is encouraging that conferences covering the field of Coptology are increasing, and possibly will help to promote many more symposiums of a more local nature, encouraging more of the younger members to present their research.

I look forward to hearing of a second conference, and inshallah, I will be attending.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Egyptian papyrus found in Irish peat bog - Coptic connections

September, 06 2010


Irish scientists have found fragments of Egyptian papyrus in the leather cover of an ancient book of psalms that was unearthed from a peat bog, Ireland's National Museum said on Monday.

The papyrus in the lining of the Egyptian-style leather cover of the 1,200-year-old manuscript, "potentially represents the first tangible connection between early Irish Christianity and the Middle Eastern Coptic Church", the Museum said.

"It is a finding that asks many questions and has confounded some of the accepted theories about the history of early Christianity in Ireland."

Raghnall O Floinn, head of collections at the Museum, said the manuscript, now known as the "Faddan More Psalter", was one of the top ten archaeological discoveries in Ireland.

It was uncovered four years ago by a man using a mechanical digger to harvest peat near Birr in County Tipperary, but analysis has only just been completed.

O Floinn told AFP the illuminated vellum manuscript encased in the leather binding dated from the eighth century but it was not known when or why it ended up in the bog where it was preserved by the chemicals in the peat.

"It appears the manuscript's leather binding came from Egypt. The question is whether the papyrus came with the cover or if it was added.

"It is possible that the imperfections in the hide may allow us to confirm the leather is Egyptian.

"We are trying to track down if there somebody who can tell us if this is possible. That is the next step."

O Floinn said the psalter is about the size of a tabloid newspaper and about 15 percent of the pages of the psalms, which are written in Latin, had survived.

The experts believe the manuscript of the psalms was produced in an Irish monastery and it was later put in the leather cover.

"The cover could have had several lives before it ended up basically as a folder for the manuscript in the bog," O Floinn said.

"It could have travelled from a library somewhere in Egypt to the Holy Land or to Constantinople or Rome and then to Ireland."

The National Museum in Dublin plans to put the psalter on public display for the first time next year

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Coptic Conference Alexandria September 21st-23rd

The Coptic conference in Alexandria organised by the calligraphy Centre of the Egyptian has now been brought forward to September 21st - until 23rd

I hope to arrange a video conference link at Swansea University, however, it will be covered via the Internet - inshallah!

More details here -

The subjects covered are:
Conference Themes
1. History and Archaeology in Egypt in the Byzantine Period,
2. History and Archaeology in Egypt in the Coptic Period,
3. Minor Art in Coptic Egypt,
4. Coptic Language, Architecture,
5. Restoration (wood, metal work, textile, etc) ,
6. Coptic Icons and Murals,
7. Touristic Sites Development,
8. Environment, Architecture,
9. Comparative Studies between Ancient Egyptian and Coptic Eras.

Friday, 20 August 2010

New film to benefit Coptic church

I Have ben informed that a new film has been made that will hopefully benefit the Coptic Church. It is called 'Visions and Miracles' By Paul Perry the Producer and Director of the acclaimed Documentary

“Jesus: The Lost Years

For further information and how to get the DVD - go here;

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Coptic conference Wake forest university Carolina USA

A colleague of mine, Nelly Van Doorn-Harder is organising a coptic conference in September at Wake Forest University Winston-Salem North Carolina USA - here are the provisional details;

September 17-19, 2010

With generous support from Wake Forest University’s
Provost’s Office
Religion Department
Divinity School
Carswell Fund


DAY I: FRIDAY, September 17, 2010
Location: Wingate Hall 302

12:30-1:30 pm

I. Dislocation and Ethnomusicology Practices

Carolyn Ramzy (University of Toronto, Canada)
Exploring Coptic Music Narratives: Collaborative Ethnography and the Study of Coptic Folk Taratīl.

Severine Gabry (France)
Contemporary studies on Coptic music: the impact of the current musical practices on the community.

Respondent: to be confirmed.

1:30 – 2:30 pm

II. Gender, Monasticism, Miracle, and Mystery

Caroline Schroeder (University of the Pacific, Stockton, CA)
The Perfect Monk: Ideals of Masculinity in the Monastery of Shenoute.

Nelly van Doorn-Harder (Wake Forest University, Winston Salem, NC)
Vehicles of Holiness: Gendered Visual Culture to Define Identity and Set Boundaries

Respondent: Akram Khater, (North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC).

2:30 – 3:00 coffee break

III. Church-citizen-state engagements

3:00 pm – 4:00 pm

Vivian Ibrahim (SOAS, London)
‘Ode to the Fezzed Shaykh’- Coptic resistance against the Muslim Brotherhood in 1940s Egypt.”
Laure Guirguis (France)
The rise of a "Coptic question" and the contemporary transformations of
Egyptian authoritarianism.

Respondent: Michaelle Browers (Wake Forest University)

4:00-4:30 Discussion

5:00-7:00 pm
Location: Annenberg Forum, Carswell Hall

Opening greetings

Keynote speech by Karel Innemee (Leiden University)

Sixteen Centuries of Wall Paintings in an Ancient Desert Church
7:00 – 9:00 pm Green Room at Reynolda Hall

DAY II: SATURDAY, September 18, 2010
Location: Pugh Auditorium, Benson Hall

IV. Coptic Art &Visual Culture

9:00-10:30 am

Darlene Brooks Hedstrom, (Wittenberg University Springfield, OH)
Reconsidering Late Antiquity and the Emerging Monastic Desertscape.

Angie Heo, (Barnard University, NY)
Virgin of Zeitoun in 1968: Holy Images of Expansion and Return.

Karel Innemee (Leiden University, the Netherlands)
The Paradox of Monasticism.

Responding: David Morgan, (Duke University, Durham, NC) & Lynne Neal (Wake Forest University)
10:30 – 11:00 am Coffee break

V. Maintaining and Defining Identities

11:00 am – 1:00 pm

Maged Mikhail (California State University, Fullerton, CA)
Demetrius of Alexandria (d. 232) in Medieval Egypt.

Mark Swanson (LSTC, Chicago, IL)
Telling the Church’s Story: genre, belief, event, and portrayal in the History of the Patriarchs.

Jason Zabarowski (Bradley University, Peoria, IL)
Religion for God and Homeland for People:” Coptic Identity and the Egyptian National Myth

Responding: Vincent Cornell, (Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia) & Kari Vogt (Oslo University)

1:00 pm - 2:00 pm Lunch
Location: Refectory on lower level of Wingate Hall.

Continuation Panel Maintaining and Defining Identities
2:00 pm – 2:45 pm

Keynote speech by Gawdat Gabra (Claremont Graduate University)
Constructing the Coptic Encyclopedia

2:45 pm – 4:30 pm

Febe Armanios (Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vermont)
Coptic Religious Life in Ottoman Egypt (1517-1798).

Paul Sedra (Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada)
Bringing the Copts Back In: Why the Copts are Essential to Understanding Modern Egyptian History.

Responding: Vincent Cornell, (Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia) & Kari Vogt (Oslo University).

4:30 – 4:45 pm Break

4:45 – 6:00 pm

Keynote speech by Stephen Davis (Yale University, New Haven, CT)
New Frontiers in Archeology: Findings at the White Monastery.

6:30 - 8:30 pm Dinner
Location: START Gallery, Reynolda Village

DAY III SUNDAY, September 19, 2010
Location: Pugh Auditorium Benson Hall

VI. Re-inventing Identities

1:00 pm – 2:00 pm

Magdi Guirguis (Coptic Studies Chair, American University in Cairo, Egypt)
The limits of the Coptic “community:” who represented this community during the 16-18th centuries.

Gaétan du Roy (Louvain, Belgium)
Research on garbage collectors of Moqattam and more specifically about the history of the religious institutions.

Responding :Akram Khater, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC

2:00 – 2:30 pm break

2:30 – 3:30 pm

Keynote speech by Magdi Guirguis (American University Cairo)
Challenges in Studying Coptic Church and Society in 16th – 19th Century.

3:30 – 4:30 pm

Keynote speech by Vivian Ibrahim (SOAS, London)
Reconsidering Studying the Copts during a Time in Motion: the 1900-1940.

4:30 – 5:00 pm

Final Discussion.

St. John the Baptist relics found on Bulgarian island

St John the Baptist's bones 'found in Bulgarian monastery'
The remains of St John the Baptist have been found in an ancient reliquary in a 5th century monastery on Sveti Ivan Island in Bulgaria, archaeologists have claimed.

The remains – small fragments of a skull, bones from a jaw and an arm, and a tooth – were discovered embedded in an altar in the ruins of the ancient monastery, on the island in the Black Sea.

A Greek inscription on the stone casque contains a reference to June 24 – the date on which John the Baptist is believed to have been born.
"We found the relics of St John the Baptist - exactly what the archaeologists had expected," said Bozhidar Dimitrov, Bulgaria's minister without portfolio and a former director of the country's National History Museum, who was present when the stone urn was opened.

"It has been confirmed that these are parts of his skeleton."

Exactly how the relics ended up on the island is a mystery, but Mr Dimitrov said they may have been donated by the Christian Church in Constantinople when Bulgaria was part of the Byzantine Empire.

But other experts cast doubt on the claim, saying carbon dating tests were needed before the bones could be identified as belonging to Christ's baptiser.

Many countries around the Mediterranean claim to have remains of St John, including Turkey, Montenegro, Greece, Italy and Egypt.

Full article from the Daily Telegraph UK - link here;

Friday, 7 May 2010

Canadian Coptic symposium May 29th

Saturday May 29th 2010
Earth Sciences Centre
Reichman Family Lecture Hall (Room 1050)
5 Bancroft Ave., University of Toronto
Co-Sponsored by
The Canadian Society for Coptic Studies (CSCS)
Department of Near and Middle Eastern Studies (NMC),
University of Toronto
Saint Mark's Coptic Museum, Scarborough

Registration fee:
CSCS member: $20.- CSCS Student member: $10.-
Non-member: $25.- Non-member student: $15.-
(lunch included)

8.30 - 9.45 Registration

9.45 - 10.00 Welcome
President: Canadian Society for Coptic Studies.

First Session
Chair Prof. Jitse H.F. Dijkstra, Associate Professor and Head of Classics,
Department of Classics and Religious Studies, University of Ottawa.

10.00 - 10.45 Prof. Stephen Davis: Professor and Director of
Undergraduate Studies, Department of Religious Studies, Yale University.
"The Excavation of the Monastery of Saint Shenute of Atripe".

10.45 - 11.00 (Discussion)

11.00 - 11.45 Prof. Anne Moore, Associate Professor, Department
of Religious Studies, University of Calgary.
"Shenoute, Prophet for the People"

11.45 - 12.00 (Discussion)

12.00 - 1.30 Lunch Break

Second Session
Chair Prof. Stephen Davis.
1.30 - 2.00 Dr. Ramez Boutros, Instructor, NMC.
"The Cave Church of Gabal al-Tayr: a pilgrimage site from the
Early Mediaeval Period in Middle Egypt"

2.00 - 2.30 Prof. Jitse H.F Dijkstra, Associate Professor
and head of Classics, department of Classics and Religious
Studies, University of Ottawa.
"The Isis Temple Graffiti Project: Preliminary Results".

2.30 - 3.00 Coffee Break

Third Session
Chair Prof. Sheila Campbell: Emeritus Fellow, Pontifical Institute
of Mediaeval Studies (PIMS), U of T.

3.00 - 3.30 Dr. Emile Tadros: Researcher at the Higher Institute
of Coptic Studies in Cairo, Department of Coptic Liturgical Music.
" 'Cosmic Music' in Early Christian Literature in Egypt".

3.30 - 4.00 Dr. Helene Moussa: Volunteer Curator, St. Mark's
Coptic Museum, Scarborough.
"Icon of St. Mina, St. Mark's Coptic Museum, Akhmim Style?"

4.00 - 4.30 Stretch break

Fourth session
Chair Prof. Anne Moore.

4.30 - 5.00 Bishoy Dawood: Ph.D. Candidate in Systematic
Theology, University of St. Michael's College in the University
of Toronto.
"The Coptic Calendar".

5.00 - 5.30 Joseph Youssef: M.A. Student, York University.
"Ritualization Processes in Coptic Monastic Rituals and Initiation

5.30 Closure

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Deir al Surian monastery Library project

The Levantine Foundation is working with the monastery of Deir al Surian in Wadi al-Natrun to build a modern library and to conserve and record the manuscript collection. The collection is of historic significance to the worlds of scholarship, the Christian Church and the heritage of Egypt.

Please take a look at the project on their website and if you are able to assist in anyway contact the Foundation.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Reading Coptic texts day symposium April 24 London

Birkbeck College in London is hosting the following day symposium on April 24th

Literature, Language and Life in Late Antique Egypt, North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean'
FFEY054N0 – Reading Coptic Texts
Saturday 24th April 2010

Welcome and Introductions 9.45am – 10:00am
Session I - 10.00am - 11.00am
A brief introduction to the history of the Late Antique period in the area, with its literary, documentary and historical sources. The spread of Christianity and its impact, particularly during the periods of persecution, leading to the growth of the monastic movement in Egypt. The spirit and influence of the desert fathers. The contribution of Egyptian Christianity to the great Ecumenical councils, and the influence of its monasticism on the rest of the Byzantine world. (Dr. Graham Gould, formerly of King's College, London and author of The Desert Fathers on Monastic Community, Oxford 1993)

Coffee Break - 11.00am - 11.30am
Session 2 - 11.30am - 12.30pm
The particular contribution of Egypt to Literature in Late Antiquity (with selected readings in translation, some of them by actress and Shakespearean scholar, Kay Senior).

Session 3 - 12.30pm - 1.30pm
Communication in Late Antique Egypt. The languages used in different spheres of activity, and the development of Coptic dialects especially in the Christian context. Depending on the experience of those who applied for the course, I would propose a two-tier language taster, with an explanation of the Greek and Coptic alphabets and principles of language for those who have done no Greek or Coptic, and a chance to read one or two easy texts for those who already do have some experience (with help from Basil Stein). (Dr. Carol Downer, Birkbeck)

Lunch Break – 1.30pm – 2.30pm
Session 5 - 2.30pm - 3.30pm
A practical demonstration of techniques of writing these languages - from the calligraphic expert, Paul Antonio. A chance to try one's hand at writing in the ancient style.

Tea Break - 3.30pm - 4.00pm
Session 5 – 4.00pm – 5.00pm
An introduction to Coptic music and chant (with recorded music and part of a DVD of Coptic liturgy), followed by a slide session on the artistic life of the Egyptians in the Coptic period.

call the central enrolment team on 020 7631 6651 to enrol, or online by going to this link:

For any further information please contact Brett O’Shaughnessy on 020 7631 6627
Course title: 'Literature, Language and Life in Late Antique Egypt, North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean'
Course code: FFEY054NO/ACB
Course venue: Birkbeck College, Malet Street, University of London
Fee: £42 (full) / £21 (Concession)
By phone:

Sunday, 7 March 2010

A free 10 week course on Coptic Studies at Swansea UK

For those of you living in Wales, UK or on holiday From April 21st, Swansea University Adult Continuing Education Department is offering a free 10 week course - 2 hours each week on wednesday mornings 10am-12pm on Coptic Studies.
I will be 'Egypt - The rise of Christianity in the first 1000 years AD - the Art and Culture of the Coptic Period'

For details and how to register please contact me;

Review of the Aswan St Mark Coptic conference 2010

Jill Kamil has her review article published in al-ahram weekly of the St Mark Foundation Coptic Symposium held in Aswan February 1st - 4th.
You can read the article, titled 'Revisiting the Souhern Frontier'

The full articles is below;

Early Christianity and Monasticism in Aswan and Nubia" was the fifth symposium on Coptic Studies to take place at a monastic centre. Organised by Coptologist Gawdat Gabra, Fawzi Estafanous of the St Mark Foundation for Coptic History Studies, Hani Takla, president of the St Shenouda Society, and under the auspices of Pope Shenouda III and Anba Hedra, archbishop of Aswan, it was held in the new Monastery of St Hatre (still under construction), within walking distance of the ruins of the famous Monastery of St Hatre in the Western Desert -- known for some unknown reason by early archaeologists and travellers as the Monastery of St Simeon.

Situated due south-west of the southern tip of Elephantine, the monastery is named after an anchorite who was consecrated by Patriarch Theophilus, bishop of Syene (Aswan), at the beginning of the fifth century.

Before the opening ceremony the participants walked down the rocky incline from the new monastery to the old, where a mass was held. As we made our way back to the conference centre we were left wondering why this large and impressive monastery was in such a sorry state of repair. It was apparently examined and published by Peter Grossman in 1985, and in 1998 the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) removed some debris from the church, but little else appears to have been achieved.

"Anba Hedra, who presented a paper on the modern history of Christianity in Aswan, talked about the importance of the location. Aswan [ Suan in Coptic and derived from the Greek Syene] was a flourishing borderline market for thousands of years. Rich in natural resources including granite, quartz and iron, it was strategically important because the southern tip of the island of Elephantine commanded the First Cataract that formed a natural boundary with Nubia. The noblemen of Elephantine were known as Keepers of the Southern Gate, which was the starting point for the caravan routes for the earliest commercial and military expeditions.

From a distance, the past seems orderly, with clear-cut periods demarcated by battles, wars, church councils and conflicts, but "real history is different and far more confusing", said Jacques van der Vliet, a scholar more fascinated with inscriptions than by architectural remains and oral tradition. In "Contested Frontiers -- southern Egypt and northern Nubia, AD 500-1500", he pointed out that although Aswan traditionally represented Egypt's southern frontier "if not in reality at least symbolically", the notion of "frontier" was complex since, while political frontiers draw seemingly clear-cut boundary lines, "cultural, linguistic and religious boundaries are by definition less easy to grasp, even when they coincide with political boundaries."

Van der Vliet presented a chronological discussion of selected inscriptions covering 1,000 years of Christianity in the broader Aswan region -- which is to say around the Aswan, Elephantine and Philae regions; the monasteries of Hatre and Qubbet Al-Hawa on the west bank of the Nile; north as far as Kom Ombo, Edfu, Esna (which were major Roman temple areas and later Christian sites); and south beyond Qasr Ibrim to the Nubian kingdoms of Nobatae, Makuria and Alwa.

The temple-church of Qasr Ibrim was the subject of a presentation by Joost Hagen. Ibrim is all that remains of an important frontier post in Roman times that commanded a view of the Nile valley and desert for miles around. Between 30 BC and 395 AD it was the official border between Egypt and Nubia, and its control by the Roman general Petronius is well documented. His task was to contain the Blemmys (Beja) and the Nobodai tributes of the Eastern and Western deserts. Later, when Christianity spread throughout Nubia at the beginning of the sixth century, a Pharaonic temple on the site (built by the 25th-dynasty Nubian ruler Pharaoh Taharqa) was converted into a church, and the great cathedral on the summit was built in the 12th century. Threatened as it was with total inundation by Lake Nasser, excavations started in the 1960s when an important discovery was made. A body clad in episcopal robes was unearthed, and within its folds were long scrolls written in Arabic and Coptic. This was only a beginning. This site has proved vital for historical research. Among the most important discoveries made so far is a horde of ancient documents written in a host of languages -- Old Nubian, Arabic, Coptic, and Greek. They are private and official letters, legal documents and petitions, literary and documentary texts, dating from the end of the eighth to the 15th centuries.

Father Wadei Abul-Lif outlined the work of one of the first great scholars to write about Nubia, whose "great achievements" have not been given due credit. Monneret de Villard (1881-1954) was, Father Wadei said, worth more than the few lines devoted to him in the Coptic Encyclopaedia. He first outlined de Villard's credentials, and then went on to describe how his works on Christian Egypt and Nubia could be divided into three groups which together covered a vast range of studies on Egypt's monasteries and churches. De Villard carried out studies on Aswan and the Monastery of Saint Simeon, as it was then known, as well as various studies in Nubia where he worked from 1929 to 1934. This prolific scholar, who was neither a philologist nor an epigraphist, admitted to relying on earlier information in cases where all traces of antiquity had disappeared, but he nevertheless provided original descriptions, especially in those cities where there was more than one church. On the island of Philae, site of the Graeco- Roman Temple of Isis, no fewer than six churches were described by de Villard, and he gave the names of nine bishops. He wrote about "many churches" in Faras, some of which he could not enter because they had been converted in mosques or were used as houses. The number of churches and monasteries he described was enormous, Father Wadei said.

Modern scholars all too frequently overlook studies made by individuals with scholarly limitations, yet we can learn a great deal from their work. From de Villard we know that, in the third century, there were Egyptian Christians in Nubia, even before the evangelisation of the sixth century when Egypt was under Byzantine rule, and the last pagan temple on Egyptian soil, the Temple of Isis in Philae, was officially closed by Justinian. Wadei pointed out that although de Villard's work was incomplete (he died in 1954 before the construction of the High Dam) his works should be resuscitated as they are "indispensable to the knowledge of Nubian history, of which," Father Wadei concluded, "there are few books, "and also because of still differing theories regarding the first missionaries to Nubia."

S.G. Richter's paper entitled "Beginnings of Christianity in Nubia" (read in his absence by Gawdat Gabra) outlined the discoveries made in Egypt and Nubia from Napoleon's expedition to Egypt towards the end of the 18th century through to the UNESCO- sponsored salvage operations carried out at the request of the Egyptian and Sudanese governments. "The results definitely changed our knowledge about the Christian heritage of Nubia," Richter wrote, "not only in the amount of ecclesiastical remains but also the quality of objects, like the famous wall-paintings of Faras which brought Nubia in line with countries with highly developed Christian cultures. Sources are limited, but the paper mentioned that "the Christian faith was known and accepted in Nubia in the fourth and fifth centuries" and Richter made reference to personalities like Moses the Black, a Nubian who lived in Wadi Al-Natrun who was witness to Christian influences in Nubia; also to Nubians mentioned as among the congregation in Sohag in one of St Shenoute's homilies. "It is possible that [Egyptian] monks and hermits of Upper Egypt taught Nubians about their faith at Egypt's southern border" Richter wrote. And, on sixth-century literary sources that describe an official mission that succeeded in converting the three kingdoms of Nubia to Christianity, he admitted to "gaps in our knowledge..." which left the door open "for misinterpretation and consequences which have lasted for decades."

Prior to a tour of the Monastery of Qubbet Al-Hawa, Renate Dekker gave a paper on this unique, octagon-domed structure, its location and documentation by early archaeologists. "The monastery seems to have been developed out of a hermitage in Late Antiquity," Dekker said (which, in more familiar local jargon, refers to the Byzantine era of Egypt's history from the fourth to the seventh centuries). She described that it was cut in the east side of the cliff, and that the tombs provided a solid and cool place, and a shelter from the sun and wind. She outlined the work by Peter Grossmann in 1985, in which he described its architectural features, and by the SCA in 1998. She described its various features, which enabled documentation of its progressive growth on two levels connected by means of rock- cut staircases, and added that there remained many imponderables. She admitted that the structure remained "an architectural puzzle".

It certainly is a challenge. On the trip to the monastery we had an opportunity to see beautiful wall paintings which, as in the Monastery of St Hedra, are in urgent need of conservation. On the west wall of the church is an apse adorned with a two-zoned composition, a popular style in monastic painting. The upper section of the composition depicts Christ in glory, his right hand raised in a posture of blessing, while in his left hand he holds a book; the mandorla is supported by six angels in full flight. Below this scene, on the lower part of the apse, the Holy Virgin stands among the 12 Apostles. To the north of the apse is a long, barrel vaulted room, where six figures are depicted on its west wall. Among the Coptic texts on the wall is one significant entry written on a layer of plaster which was applied over the paintings. It bears the date AM 896 (1180 AD), which clearly indicates that the wall paintings were executed prior to that date.

Recalling these paintings, and similar ones in the monastery of St Hedra, I am reminded of the paper given by Mary Kupelian, "A Comparative Study of the Ascension Scene in the Apse of the Monastery at Qubbat Al-Hawa", in which she demonstrates that New Testament themes, which are to be found in monasteries all over the country, provide an iconic view of sacred a person or persons, they relate to the liturgy, and they serve to describe the biblical narrative. Kupelian observes that the themes in the apse are symbolic; that the ascension is the only narrative theme in the apse; and that it is common to churches all over the country including the church of the Holy Virgin in the Deir Al-Surian in Wadi Natrun, the church chapel of the Virgin in the Monastery of Abu Seifein in Old Cairo, and the two ancient monasteries in Aswan.

Sabri Shaker gave an excellent paper about the architectural restoration of the monastery of St Hedra. Demolition of the roofing of the church increased the speed of deterioration of the works which, within the last 70 years, have been badly damaged; those on the lower level have been better protected. The first phase of the conservation plan entails new roofing and consolidation of architectural features. This will be followed by an analytical study of the condition of the wall paintings with view to conservation.

Shaker is collaborating with Howard Middleton Jones with a view to developing a standard methodology towards the reconstruction, preservation and conservation of Coptic monuments in Egypt. Jones's paper outlined a proposed method that has been tested in the archaeological world over the past decade, and which, he suggests, could be integrated with ongoing projects in Egypt. He opined that "organising a 'universal' method would assist not only in recording, analysing and preserving Coptic wall paintings and inscriptions, but also monastic sites as a whole, thus preserving the important and unique Coptic heritage"

Ancient history encapsulated

THE OPENING ceremony of the seminar was enhanced by a colourful panorama put on by the children of Aswan who enacted the various eras of Egypt's history. They ranged in age from first graders through to teenagers, and put on a wonderful show. Along the aisle of the great tent where the opening ceremony took place came tiny representatives of the earliest Pharaohs wearing the Red Crown of Upper Egypt, the White Crown of Lower Egypt, and the Double Crown representing the unification of the "Two Lands". The proud pyramid-builders carried pyramids, the mighty conquerors of peak periods in Egyptian history marched up the aisle. Ancient history, legendary history, through to the Ptolemaic were all present. Then came the arrival of St Mark the Evangelist in Alexandria, and the biblical story of the Flight of the Holy Family into Egypt. There were furry animals and an awe-inspiring lion. The children of Aswan are to be commended for their enthusiasm, talent, discipline, and (I must add) their fluency in English as their second language. Aswan Governor Mustafa El-Said could not fail to be proud

Saturday, 6 March 2010

New UK Coptic Research centre

At last - after many months of trying to set up a Research Centre, it has finally 'gone live' - March 1st 2010
It will be a few weeks before I am able to set up a full listing etc - but you can go to the website for further details.
If anyone is interested in following the progress, contributing articles or letters and their research, please contact me via the website or email me at.. with a header Coptic Research Centre

Many thanks

UK Coptic symposium 2010

The latest information I have is that the 2nd UK Coptic symposium will be held over the weekend of December 10/12th 2010 at the Coptic Centre Stevenage, England.
More news when I receive updates.