The Société d’Archéologie Copte (SAC) was founded in 1934 by a group of Copts concerned with conducting, enhancing, and publishing Coptic Studies. Leading the Société were members of the prominent Coptic Boutros-Ghali family. Ever since, the SAC has attained international stature in the field of Coptic studies.
Last month saw a meeting in Cairo between representatives of the SAC and the American University in Cairo (AUC) to discuss potential joint cooperation. Participating in the meeting, which was held at the premises of the SAC, were Wassef Boutros-Gahli, president of the SAC; Nabil Farouk, director of its library; and SAC members Coptologist Antonios Ramsis and photographer Christine Ghali.
The AUC delegation was represented by Nigel Fletcher-Jones, director of AUC Press; Philip Croom, associate dean and director of AUC’s Rare Books and Special Collections Library; Shahira al-Sawi, dean of AUC Library; Laurence Moftah, AUC’s Librarian Emerita; and AUC Ombudsman Lamia Eid. Also attending was Iris Soliman, anaesthesiologist and pain specialist in the United States, who is the daughter of Mrs Moftah and grandniece of Ragheb Moftah, the pioneer who helped save Coptic liturgical heritage. Moftah was in 1954 a co-founder of the Higher Institute of Coptic Studies and for years headed its music department.
To open the meeting Wassef Boutros-Ghali gave a briefing about the history of the Société d’Archéologie Copte and its contributions to the field of Coptic Studies in Egypt and abroad. He also talked about the society’s annual publication, which publishes the latest research in Coptic Studies in its journal Bulletin de la Société d’Archéologie Copte (Jamʻīyat al-Āthār al-Qibṭīyah, Egypt). He mentioned the latest bulletin and an article by Youhanna Nessim Youssef entitled “Al-Mayrūn al-Muqaddas” (The Holy Mayron). Mr Youssef is a Senior Research Associate at the Centre for Early Christian Studies at the Australian Catholic University.
Mr Boutros-Ghali spoke of his future plan to set up an intensive training programme that would offer the study of oriental languages in the field of Coptic archaeology. He outlined the importance of the society’s library, which contains rare books and documents of significant value to researchers in Coptic studies and heritage, and probably unavailable elsewhere in Egypt. Consequently, he emphasised, there was an urgent need to publish scholarly research in the field of archeology, languages and other subject-areas that were written by Egyptian Coptic scholars.
He also mentioned that over the past hundred years the Western World had focused its attention on the study of Egyptology and had not given due attention to the Coptic period and its archaeological heritage, language and culture.
Nigel Fletcher-Jones discussed his intended plans for collaborative agreement between the SAC and the AUC Press for worldwide distribution of academic and scholarly publications on “the neglected period” of Coptic history—a period which roughly extends from the first to the 8th century in Egypt. The purpose is to create awareness among international scholars of the significance of Coptic studies.
Mr Boutros-Ghali and the AUC delegation discussed the possibility of undertaking the restoration and conservation of some 17,000 rare volumes preserved in the SAC’s library. Also mentioned was the need to make digital copies of the original source material in the library. The digital copies would be made available to researchers so as to protect the original rare sources from misuse or loss.
The AUC delegation members were given a tour of the premises of the SAC and visited its venerable library. They were able to see the collection of rare archeological artefacts on display in the gallery. During the 20th century the society sponsored archaeological excavations, and as a result archaeologists gave the society some valuable objects discovered in the digs. There are also artefacts presented by the Boutros-Ghali family to the society. Some are from the 4th, 5th and later centuries, including 17th and 18th century objects.
Gem of a church
The AUC delegation also visited the Boutrussiyyah Coptic Orthodox church of St Peter and St Paul, the church built in 1912 by the Boutros-Ghali family in the Cairo district of Abassiya. Boutros Pasha Ghali is buried in the crypt below the main altar. The AUC delegates were impressed by the interior of the church with its splendid mosaics, gilded ceilings, domes and archways. They were also impressed by the icons in the Italian-Byzantine style, and most specifically the fresco painting of Sit Safa, a member of the Boutros-Ghali family, who is depicted presenting the Boutrussiyyah Church to the Apostles St Peter and St Paul. The AUC delegates expressed their admiration of the magnificent architectural structure of the church, as it combines Byzantine, Renaissance and Coptic forms of art and architecture.
2 December 2015