Wassef Boutros-Ghali, most senior member of the prominent Coptic Boutros-Ghali family departed our world on 16 March, aged 99. Mr Boutros-Ghali was President of the reputable Société d’Archéologie Copte (SAC), and superintendent of al-Boutrossiya Church in Abassiya, Cairo.
Mourned by Pope
Pope Tawadros II mourned Mr Wassef Boutros-Ghali in a statement issued by the Coptic Orthodox Church. The statement began with the verse: “For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14:8).
Mr W. Boutros-Ghali, the statement said, “rested in the Lord today after a long life filled with giving to the homeland and to the Church. During the long years in which he served as President of the Société d’Archéologie Copte, SAC made great contributions to the field of Coptic studies, which made him ‘one of its great pioneers’.
“May his pure soul rest in paradise. We offer condolences to his blessed family and to all his students and lovers.”
The funeral of Mr Wassef Boutros-Ghali was held on 16 March at Boutrossiya Church.
Superintendent of Boutrossiya Church
The church of St Peter and St Paul in Cairo, known as al-Boutrossiya in reference to the family that built it, was built by the Boutros-Ghali family in 1911 following a tragic event in Egypt’s modern history: the assassination of Boutros Pasha Ghali (1846 – 1910) who was prime minister of Egypt from 1908 to 1910. Boutros Pasha Ghali was buried in a crypt under the church’s altar; other members of the family who later died were also buried in that crypt.
The church is located in Ramses Street in the Cairo neighbourhood of Abassiya. It was consecrated by Pope Kyrillos V who was Coptic Orthodox Patriarch in 1874 – 1927. To date, the Boutros-Ghali family is responsible for the church and tend to its needs.
Wassef Boutros-Ghali leaves behind a wife; a son Teymour Michel, entrepreneur and investor in the US; and a daughter Perihan who is in the field of architecture. He is the grandson of Boutros Pasha Ghali, former prime minister of Egypt. His father is Youssef Bek Boutros, his mother Sophie Hanim Mikhael, and his brother Boutros Boutros-Ghali (1922 – 2016), former Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Architecture and archaeology
In addition to being a pioneer in Coptic studies, Mr W. Boutros-Ghali has to his credit a brilliant career in the field of architecture, archaeology and antiquities. In 1969, he was consultant to UNESCO for the project of conservation and preservation of the city of Tunis, and in 1970 he participated in the project to develop the city. In the same year, he again acted as consultant to UNESCO, but this time for the project of protecting and preserving antiquities in Algeria.
In 1970, he became Principal Technical Advisor to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). He worked as advisor in the field for environment and urbanism, tackling issues of housing, planning and construction.
Mr W. Boutros-Ghali held the position of President of the Société d’Archéologie Copte since 1988. SAC was founded in 1934 by a group of Egyptians concerned with conducting, enhancing, and publishing Coptic Studies, led by members of the Boutros-Ghali family.
Through the years, SAC has attained international stature in the field, and was pivotal in founding the International Association for Coptic Studies (ASC) in 1976. Under Mr W. Boutros-Ghali ASC thrived and prospered with various contributions to the field of Coptic studies, including publishing books, publications and research on Coptic studies, and cataloguing manuscripts.
In addition to all the above, Wassef Boutros-Ghali was an artist of international stature, a fact little-known in Egypt. His talent showed early on; at 12 he joined the studio of Jaro Hilbert, a classically trained Czech painter in Cairo, who became his mentor. In 1946 W. Boutros-Ghali graduated, first in his class, from Cairo University with a degree in Architecture.
The July 1952 Revolution in Egypt which deposed the monarchy and set up the country as a republic led to socialist laws in 1960 that greatly curtailed the Boutros-Ghali family agrarian wealth. Wassef relocated in Khartoum, Sudan, in 1960, then in Rome in 1963, and New York in 1971. During this period Wassef painted numerous watercolours and began to paint in oil. In 1974 he painted his first work in acrylic. In 1984 he retired from UNDP, which gave him more time for painting.
His subject matter turned towards Biblical stories such as the Last Supper, The Entry of Christ into Jerusalem, and Entombment. These subjects were rendered in watercolor, providing for more precision and intimacy. With his return to Cairo in 1985, the equilibrium of geometric spaces played a bigger role in his paintings, and he continued to use vibrant colours to show motion and energy. His compositions implied scenes of myth and reality, balancing the simplicity of daily life with imagination in abstraction.
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