Coptic Museum pays tribute to martyrs

06-03-2017 12:37 PM

Sanaa’ Farouk Photos by Emad Ishaq

The temporary exhibition “Martyrs of Egypt” opened on 2 February 2017 at the

Coptic Museum in Cairo at the hand of Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Anany and

Bishop of Old Cairo churches Anba Yulius. The exhibition ran till 20 February.

“The idea of the exhibition was born out of the suicide bombing which took place

at al-Boutrossiya church in Cairo during Holy Mass on 11 December 2016, and

which left 29 Copts dead,” Atef Naguib, General Manager of the Coptic museum,

told Watani.

First martyrs

“We chose the pieces carefully so that they would represent all the martyrs in the

history of the Copts, especially those who fell during the Roman persecution in the

first three centuries. We placed on display old manuscripts of the Coptic

Synaxarium, the book that narrates day by day the stories of the saints and martyrs

commemorated that day.

“We were not sufficiently lucky to have the part of the Synaxarium that includes

18 Misra (24 August),” Dr Naguib said. On that day the Coptic Church

commemorates the martyrdom of St Eudaemon (Wadamon) in the southern city of

Armant. St Eudaemon is known as the first martyr in Egypt, and is believed to

have been martyred at the time of the Flight of the Holy Family to Egypt from

Herod the King who wished to kill Baby Jesus.

Among the antiquities on display are icons and Coptic manuscripts that tell the

story of Saint Julius of Aqfahs (Yulius al-Aqfahsi), martyr and martyrologist, the

writer of the biography of martyrs during the Roman persecution. He used to care

for the bodies of those who were martyred for their faith, to shroud them and send

them to their hometowns or villages for proper burial.

Also on display is the book of al-Difnar, a manuscript on linen that includes a

collection of short stories of the saints for each day of the year, and dates back to

1445 on the Coptic calendar, 1729 on the Gregorian calendar, as well as three

pottery flasks carrying images of saints, and a number of lamps and ceramic


Double celebration

Some of the icons on display are shown for the first time. Among them is an icon

dating from 1746 of Saint Basilides, defender of St Potomiana. Basilides was a

soldier who, when involved in the execution of St Potomiana, protected her against

a mob. Receiving the faith, Basilides was also martyred. The icon was created by

Yuhanna al-Armani (cca 1720 – 1786, Cairo) an icon painter of Armenian origin in

Ottoman Egypt. He is most notable for his religious works, especially his Coptic

icons that adorn the Hanging Church in Old Cairo.

Among the exhibits are lamps that go back to the persecution era; a number of

them carry the names of martyrs.

“The exhibition is the fruit of the work of all the colleagues of the Coptic

Museum,” Dr Naguib concluded. “It is an extension to the cooperation between

us—the museum’s administration—and the churches of Old Cairo.”

This year will witness a great celebration to commemorate 70 years of the New

Wing of the museum, and 107 years since the Coptic Museum was established.

The celebration, Dr Naguib says, will shed the light on the history of the museum,

its evolution and the pieces first displayed, and will review the most prominent

figures who were directors of the museum. Topping the list is Marcus Simaika

Pasha who founded the museum in 1910; and Gawdat Gabra; Togo Mina; Victor

Girgis; and Pahor Labib (1905 – 1994) who was the museum’s director from 1951

to 1965 and one of the world leaders in Egyptology and Coptology. His time in

office saw the discovery of the Nag Hammadi scrolls; these were published in 12

volumes and placed in the museum.

Repairs needed

During Dr Anani's visit, Dr Naguib put before the State minister all the problems

confronting them at the museum, major among which is the malfunction of the air-

conditioning system which was installed during the last museum renovation in

2010 when the windows were all closed permanently and natural aeration was

stopped under the pretext of protecting the antiquities from dust. Now the air

conditioning is out of order and there is no natural aeration, making the situation

intolerable. Dr Naguib also said the museum needed a plexiglass roof to cover the

open-air display to protect against rain. Dr Anani said that there had been no funds

available for repairs, but promised that he would now allocate the funds necessary

for the Coptic Museum.

Watani International









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