Last week saw the acting patriarch Anba Pachomeus, jointly with the Antiquities Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, open a museum for the late Pope Shenouda III’s personal collection at the
Last week saw the acting patriarch Anba Pachomeus, jointly with the Antiquities Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, open a museum for the late Pope Shenouda III’s personal collection at the Coptic Cultural Centre in Cairo. Pope Shenouda, who passed away last March after 41 years into the papacy, was widely loved and respected by all Egyptians, Muslims and Copts alike. His passing away left Copts with the grief of an ‘orphaned’ congregation. A museum for his collection thus comes as a timely comfort for the majority of them.
Watani took a tour of the museum.
Writing about the Pope
The first thing that greets the visitor who steps into the museum hall is a showcase which includes 140 books written about Pope Shenouda and published after his death last March. Among these are Diwan lil-Baba Shenouda (Pope Shenouda##s Poetry Collection) compiled by Mohamed Salman; Fr Bishoi Helmy’s La’alei’ fee Kalimaat lil-Baba Shenouda (Gems of the Words of Pope Shenouda); and Sanaa’ al-Saïd’s Al-Baba Shenouda Qeddees al-Asr (Pope Shenouda, the Contemporary Saint). Books published by the State-owned Cairo dailies Al-Ahram and Al-Gomhouriya on the Pope after his death are also on display, as well as compilations of the articles that the Pope Shenouda used to write in Al-Akhbar and Al-Gomhouriya, published by the Coptic Cultural Centre.
Another showcase includes 85 books which were written on Pope Shenouda during his lifetime, including Sanaa’ al-Saïd’s Al-Baba Shenouda baynal-Siyassa wal-Din (Pope Shenouda between Politics and Religion).
Pictures and letters
A collection of large-size photos of Pope Shenouda III hang on the walls. Several show him ordaining monks or nuns; one shows him visiting the ruins of the 4th century Mar-Mina basilica south of Alexandria; and yet others show the Pope with important figures of the Coptic Church including the late abbots of Mar-Mina’s Anba Mina Avamina, the Syrian monastery’s Anba Mata’os, and Anba Bishoi’s Anba Sarapamon.
Notes, letters and greetings cards handwritten by the Pope form a very interesting collection. Among them is a congratulation note to the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi; and another mourning him when he died in 2010. There is also the statement issued by the Coptic Orthodox Church in which the Pope greeted Egypt’s youth and the 25 January 2011 Revolution, and the original hard copy of President Sadat’s decree approving the appointment of Shenouda III as Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church in 1971. Even though the patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church is elected by the congregation through a select electorate body and a subsequent altar draw, his recognition by the State as head of the Church has to be approved by the president of the republic.
The Armenian Bible
A collection of gifts that were offered to the late Pope is there for the visitor to admire. There is a small Bible signed on 28/10/1962 by Fr Shenouda al-Suryani—later Bishop of Gharbiya Anba Yu’annis who wrote a series of spiritual books considered among the most significant in the Coptic Orthodox Church.
Also on display is a wooden cross offered to His Holiness by the Ethiopian Church while on one of his visits there, and a medal in the form of an eagle presented to the Pope by the Coptic Church in South Africa, as well as a map plotting all the churches established in Africa during Pope Shenouda’s papacy.
There is also a medal bestowed on Pope Shenouda III by His Holliness Ignatius Zaka I, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Pope Shenouda’s enthronement.
But the most impressive of the gifts is one received by Pope Shenouda, also for the 40th anniversary of his enthronement, from His Holliness Catholicos Aram I of the Holy See of Cilicia. It is a copy of an Armenian manuscript of the Bible that dates back to the 12th century. Pope Shenouda had handed over this manuscript to the Coptic Orthodox Cultural Centre.
From desert monk to patriarch
Among the most capturing of the museum’s collection is a model of the desert cave in which Pope Shenouda lived for years as a hermit at Wadi al-Natroun the Western Desert before he became pope.
The model houses several of the personal possessions the pope used in the cave. These include a small kerosene cooker and lamp, his teapot, two water pitchers, a small wooden bench with his name as a monk “The monk Antonius al-Suriani” written on it, a big wooden cross, a Bible, and a collection of pictures of the Holy Virgin and the saints.
The patriarchal seat of Pope Kyrillos VI, Pope Shenouda’s predecessor who was patriarch from 1959 to 1971 and who is now considered a Coptic saint, is also among the museum’s display. The seat was manufactured in 1968 for the new St Mark Cathedral and papal headquarters at Abassiya, Cairo; it was on that seat that Pope Shenouda III was enthroned in 1971.
Among the most important displays are the first sceptre and cross the Pope was handed on the altar during his seating ceremony on 14 November 1971 and which he used until 2004. On display are also six other crosses in various shapes and sizes which His Holiness carried throughout his life, as well as the very beautiful papal crown ornamented with pictures of saints, which the Pope wore during the feast ceremonies.
The last days
The desk on which Pope Shenouda sat every Wednesday evening to deliver his widely-attended weekly sermon at St Mark’s has now been moved to the museum, along with his Bible, Bible stand, lamp stand, microphone, desk clock, coffee cup and water glass. All these are set up just as they used to be during the weekly sermon. A large picture of the Pope hangs behind the desk, with the sanctuary drape of St Mark right behind him as on every Wednesday.
The Pope’s personal belongings are on display, including his watch and cell-phone, as well as a number of socks, handkerchiefs and pens.
There are also three chairs: the first upholstered with brown velvet on which His Holiness used to rest when inside the sanctuary; and the other two he used during the Melli (Community) Council meetings and in his personal chamber.
The contents of the Pope’s cell (chamber) included an old wooden desk that is on display together with an old black telephone, a small iron bed and wooden night table, a wooden towel hanger, and a small chair on which he used to sit to pack for his travels.
A tour around Pope Shenouda’s museum is truly an experience to be treasured; for a few hours one is immersed in the beloved Pope’s world.
Yet it was a surprise to find that visitors are charged EGP10 each for a ticket; a family of four or five pays some EGP40 or 50 to treat themselves to such a visit. National museums charge no more than one or two Pounds for a visit. It is no secret that many Copts may find the EGP10-ticket per family member hard on their budget. Outside the museum, a despondent middle aged man stood stammering: “Why should we pay so much to see our Pope’s museum? Were the Pope here he would never have allowed it.”
The reader will not have failed to observe that this story includes not a single picture of any of the displays. Reporters and visitors are not allowed to carry cameras or mobile phones inside, yet there is no guidebook to the museum or any pictures of its collection that the visitors may buy.
I found no-one to explain why that was so. The cheerful, competent guide who so kindly took me around the museum and spared no effort in explaining all the details could offer no answer.
It looks like the only person to answer these questions would be Anba Ermiya, the secretary to Pope Shenouda III, who so meticulously and painstakingly compiled this delightful museum collection. Even though his loving, dedicated efforts are there for all to see, he was not available for comments.
27 July 2012