In cooperation with the Bibliotheca Alexandrina’s (BA) Centre for Coptic Studies,
Bayt al-Sinnari (Sennari House) in the district of al-Sayeda Zeinab in Cairo will
host an open-day for the public to celebrate the “Annual Coptic Heritage Day” to
on 9 March 2017. Bayt al-Sinnari is an 18th century house that represents a
splendid example of Islamic- style architecture, and which today acts as the Cairo
outlet of the BA.
Given that 8 March is International Women’s Day, the BA celebration will be held
under the title “Thaïs and Verena”, after the two famous saints. A number of
Christian and Muslim women who played active and vital roles in Coptic heritage
will be honoured during the celebration, including the prominent Coptic historian
Iris Habib Elmasry (1910 – 1994), author of book History of the Coptic Church;
Kamilia Makram, current Director of the Coptic Museum; Dr Shaza Gamal
Muhammad, Professor of Coptology at Helwan University; Sameeha Abdul-
Shaheed, head of the manuscript department at the Coptic Museum.
Within the context of the BA’s aim to highlight the role of Egyptian women
throughout the ages and their various cultural achievements, especially in heritage,
this year’s main topic will be “The Achievements of Egyptian Women in Heritage
Throughout the Ages”.
During the celebration, several prominent female saints and martyrs in Coptic
history, as well as the 28 martyrs of Botroussiya Church who died when a suicide
bomber broke into the church during Sunday Mass on 11 December and blew
himself up, will be commemorated. The celebration will also include lectures that
will shed light on a number of significant female Coptic figures throughout history.
According to Ayman Mansour, administrator of special projects at the BA, the
celebration will witness an art exhibition of icons of the most prominent female
Egyptian Coptic saints. Artworks to be displayed are contributions of some 20
The celebration will conclude with a Coptic choir concert that will be performed
by the choir of Saint Demiana Church in Werdayan.
St Verena is a 3rd-4th- century Egyptian saint who was the sister of St Maurice, an
officer with the Theban Legion that was in the third century assigned to fight for
the Roman empire in Rhaetia, present-day Switzerland. Verena accompanied her
brother on the Theban Legion’s expedition to the Swiss Alps, to serve the soldiers
and care for them. Being Christian, St Maurice and several of his Egyptian
colleagues were martyred for their faith. They are today the patron saints of Zurich.
Verena stayed on in the Alps near present-day Zurich after her brother’s death,
living a life of prayer and worship in a cave in the mountains. She used to go down
to the nearby villages to serve the poor and sick; it helped that she had extensive
knowledge of herbal healing. She was especially interested in caring for girls and
young women, and gained a reputation for teaching them practices of health and
personal hygiene. She is usually depicted caring for the sick, or standing with a
pitcher of water in one hand and a typical Egyptian double-comb in the other. It is
said that she performed many miracles. She died in Switzerland in 344 at age 64.
Today, St Verena is venerated as a saint in Egypt and in Switzerland, by the Coptic
Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Churches.
7 March 2017