More than 150 people gathered at Claremont Graduate University (CGU) on Sunday, 2 December to celebrate the publication of a new book, The Churches of Egypt: From the Journey of The Holy Family to the Present Day. The group included students and faculty from CGU’s School of Religion (SoR), members of the Claremont community, and parishioners and clergy from Coptic churches throughout the greater Los Angeles area. The diversity of those in attendance underscored their shared enthusiasm for Coptic subjects and the broad appeal of Coptic studies, irrespective of culture, ethnicity or religious affiliation.
Churches and churchgoing fulfill a central role in the Coptic experience, serving as a focal point for expression, evangelisation and celebration of faith, and as the audience at Claremont learned, The Churches of Egypt greatly enhances our understanding of this role. The authors, Gawdat Gabra, Visiting Professor of Coptic Studies at Claremont Graduate University and Gertrud J.M. van Loon, a researcher at Leiden University in The Netherlands are both leading authorities in Coptic art, and their mastery of the subject matter shows in this deeply nuanced text. Edited in a lucid, eminently readable style by Carolyn Ludwig, herself a noted author and lecturer on Coptic subjects, and endowed with the work of acclaimed photographer Sherif Sonbol, the book is an instant classic in its field.
Karen Torjesen, Dean of the School of Religion, was on hand to provide a gracious welcome and called attention in her opening remarks to Claremont’s longstanding commitment to Coptic scholarship. Saad Michael Saad, Chair of the SoR’s Coptic Studies Council, provided further welcome and highlighted the Council’s role in fostering Coptic academic endeavor. By capitalising on the formidable intellectual resources of the SoR, its history of excellence in Coptic studies, and the rich cultural assets of the Coptic community, the Council hopes to cultivate a unique environment that will serve as a focal point for Coptic scholarship within the University and around the world. Throughout the 2 December event it was clear that these aspirations are well on the way to becoming a reality.
True to its name the book’s reach extends from churches associated with the Holy Family’s stay in Egypt to such modern edifices as the Cathedral of St Mark in Alexandria. Along the way it surveys countless treasures including the newly restored monasteries of St Antony, St Paula, and St Mary (The Syrians); much of the iconography brought to light by these restorations is documented here for the first time. The book contains unparalleled photographs of St Simeon the Tanner’s in Muqattam, the White and Red Monasteries of St Shenouda in Sohag, and St Mary’s Monastery in the Mountain of Assiut (Drunka), to name but a few examples of the outstanding material found in its pages. Ms Ludwig captivated the audience with a narrative of her visits to these sites, while an accompanying slideshow featuring Mr Sobol’s superlative photographs drew gasps of awe and exclamation from the admiring crowd.
The depth of Dr Gabra’s scholarship was evident to all during his subsequent presentation on Papal residences, in which he elucidated the pervasive and ongoing role of monasticism in the lives of the Patriarchs of the See of St Mark. Two of Dr Gabra’s students, Prinny Stevens and Carolyn Patterson punctuated the evening’s proceedings with energetic remarks on their experience of Coptic Studies at Claremont. Through the efforts of such promising students as these, we can surely look forward to a bright future for Coptic scholarship and celebrations of further books in the mold of The Churches of Egypt.
Released in handsome 10 x12 inch hardcover format by the American University in Cairo Press in conjunction with Ludwig Publishing, the book contains over 300 exquisitely rendered full-color photographs, and would make an excellent gift to anyone with an interest in sacred art and architecture, Egyptian history or the Coptic experience. It is available from major booksellers and also directly from Ludwig [email protected]
This book and the celebration at Claremont testify to the breadth and depth of Coptic religion and culture. More than a Christian minority seeking justice in their Egyptian homeland, the Copts are heirs to a civilisation with origins beyond the reach of recorded history and continued vitality in our present day. This sense of stewardship pervades Coptic faith and spirituality: by upholding an unbroken lineage that began with the visit of the Holy Family to Egypt, the Copts are blessed to share and grow in a tradition that enriches not only the churches of Egypt, but those of the entire world.
Nicholas Riegels, M.D., lives in Seattle, Washington.
The picture shows from left to right: Mr. Azmi Hanna, Editor-in-Chief of Orthodox News; Fr Shenouda Ghattas, St John Church, Covina; Dean Karen Torjesen, Dean of the School of Religion; Mrs Carolyn Ludwig, Editor of The Churches of Egypt; Professor Gawdat Gabra, co-author of The Churches of Egypt; and Dr Saad Michael Saad, Chair of the Coptic Studies Council at CGU.