Half a century of Coptology

15-12-2011 10:12 AM

Mary Mansour





The main papers presented at the conference focused on the story of half a century of Coptology.
Sylvie Denoix of the French institute for oriental archaeology (IFAO) talked about the achievements of the institute in the field of Coptology throughout 50 years; while Michel Abdel-Malek, head of the Music Department at the Institute of Coptic Studies (ICS) talked about the role of Ragheb Moftah in transcribing the hitherto oral Coptic tunes in musical notations. Sobhy Abdel-Malak of the ICS tackled the topic of Coptology before half a century; and Adel Fakhry, also of the ICS related how the International Association of Coptic Studies was formed in 1976 during the first international conference on Coptology. The topic of Coptic heritage in Nubia was tackled by Atef Naguib, director of Aswan Museum.


Anba Martirus, bishop of Sharq al-Sekkal-Hadeed, pointed out that Coptology is now being the focus of studies in several institutes all over the world. Persons from more than 25 countries meet every four years to attend a specialised conference on Coptology held by Leiden University in the Netherlands. It was Leiden University, Anba Martirus reminded, that implemented the Egyptian-Netherland Co-operation for Coptic Art Preservation (ENCCAP).
ENCCAP’s work has served to uncover wall-paintings and Syriac texts on the walls of the Church of the Holy Virgin at the 4th-century Syrian Monastery in Wadi Natroun in the Western Desert.. Among the new wall-paintings is one representing the Three Patriarchs, and another very beautiful image of the Virgin breastfeeding the Infant Jesus. Among the Syriac texts found on the walls (most of them written from top to bottom) are some quite long ones resembling the colophons of manuscripts, giving names and dates. As such, these texts become historical witnesses, providing valuable information about the history of the monastery and its architecture as well as its links with the Syrian motherland.
Excavations conducted at the Anba Moussa Monastery, also in Wadi Natroun, yielded a beautiful 13th century icon of St John the Baptist. The icon, which had been damaged by white ants, was successfully restored, as were many other old icons.
Equally important, however, was that the monks of the desert monasteries were educated on Coptic art and trained to document it, as well as to research relevant topics and publish their findings.


Egyptian and Coptic
Pope Shenouda III, Supreme Head of the Institute of Coptic Studies, reminded the conference that the institute had been in existence since 1954. He addressed the Supreme Council of Antiquities, requesting that they return the Deir al-Zugag (The Glass Monastery) which is today in their possession. He said that after Egyptians gave up paganism, many pagan temples were turned into churches, and among them was Deir al-Zugag. He pointed out that all Coptic antiquities were Egyptian, but not all Egyptian antiquities are Coptic.
The Pope talked about the excellence of Egypt in the sciences, especially in Egyptology and Coptology, and maintained that the word ‘doctor’ in the Coptic language was ‘cine’, a derivative of the word ‘medicine’. The word for ‘Misr’ (Egypt) was ‘Chemi’, literally ‘black’ [land] in Coptic, and from this derived the word ‘chemistry’.
The Pope stressed the importance of institutes that teach Coptic. He said that Coptic dictionaries have been compiled in Germany from old Coptic manuscripts.
The Pope also mentioned prominent Coptic figures, among them Dr Aziz Suryal Attiya, who helped establish the Institute of Coptic Studies in 1954, and Dr Ragheb Muftah, who from 1927 spent his wealth on transcribing Coptic music into musical notations. The Pope also mentioned the efforts of Dr Fawzi Stephanos in chronicling Coptic history, especially of the monasteries in Upper Egypt, Wadi Natroun and Fayoum. He reminded that Coptic culture dated back to the second and third centuries, and that the School of Alexandria and its scholars offered a distinctive contribution to human culture.


Finally, Antoun Yacoub, dean of the Institute of Coptic Studies, called for co-operation between institutes interested in Coptology and asked for a digital library to be set up. Dr Yacoub also called for a revival of Coptic studies and departments for teaching the Coptic language. He also suggested the formation of a committee to assess the outcome of the current conference.



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