Pierre du Bourguet



Coptic art,  the distinctive  Christian art of  Egypt,  includes  works of  a
diverse  character  because  there  was  no  separation  between  ``art'' and
``craft''  in  the  early  Christian  era;  the  capital  of  a column  or an
illustrated manuscript were as much forms of creative expression as paintings
and sculpture.  From burial grounds,  there are objects like funerary stelae,
or  tombstones,  cartonnage sarcophagi  and  fragments of woven textiles from
clothing in which the deceased were laid to rest.  Monastic centers, churches
and  shrines   provide   stone  and   wood-carvings,   metalwork,   wall  and
panel-paintings, as well as a wealth of utilitarian objects like ivory combs,
wooden seals for impressing sacred bread, pottery and glassware.

Early sources of influence
The Coptic art  --  like  any  other  form  of  artistic  expression  --  was
influenced by  two  main sources:  the classical  (Hellenic)  world  and  the
ancient Egyptian world.  Objects made in Greek style,  or  under  the  direct
influence  of  classical  art, include stone carvings of winged victories  or
cupids bearing garlands, the vine  branches of Bacchus,  Aphrodite, Leda, and
Hercules.  Monuments of mixed Greek-Egyptian character  are relief slabs that
were probably used as wall decorations in churches;  they  frequently feature
pilasters surmounted by stylized Corinthian capitals, sphinxes or fish -- the
earliest symbol of Christianity.  Ancient Egyptian influence is  best seen in
funerary stelae, which have  survived in large  number throughout Egypt. They
are either square  or  rectangular in shape  and are sometimes curved at  the
top,  or have a triangular pediment.  Many have a   tiny square cavity, which
penetrated to  the back of the stele.  Such cavities were common  in  Ancient
Egyptian cemeteries (incense was burned in them in the belief that the spirit
of the dead would enjoy its perfume). In the early  Christian era stelae came
from pagan and Christian burial grounds, and  were usually inscribed with the
name of the  deceased,  details of his/her life   or titles, and  the day  of
his/her death, written in the Greek language or the Coptic language (the last
stage of the Egyptian language). The carvings on them included Greek-Egyptian
motifs: a figure,  often robed like an aristocratic  Greek reclining on a bed
and holding a drinking vessel or grapes, for example, might be flanked by the
jackal-god Anubis and the hawk-heated Horus.

The persistence  of ancient Egyptian symbolism  in   early  Christian  art is
pretty much accepted  among biblical historians.  It is both easy and natural
to recognize evidence of that influence in early  Christian art. For example,
it is accepted that the ansate  cross, the ``ankh''  or Hieroglyphic sign for
the word ``life'',  was intentionally adopted  by early  Christians. In fact,
many relief slabs  show  both   the ``ankh''  and the   Christian   ``cross''
together,  frequently flanked by  the first  and last   letters of the  Greek
alphabet, the Alpha (A) and the Omega (W),  in  an early form  of what was to
become the monogram of Jesus Christ the Lord for, in Revelation 1:8, He said:
``I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning  and the End.''  Other examples
of Egyptian symbolism in early Christian art are the Holy Spirit in the early
church shown descending in the form of a  winged  bird, like the soul  of the
deceased, the "ba", in ancient Egypt; the archangel Michael weighing souls in
the balance, which is  akin to  the  ancient Egyptian  god of  wisdom, Thoth,
weighing the heart of the deceased in the scales of justice; the portrayal of
Christ triumphant over noxious beasts is evidently derived from that of Horus
upon the crocodiles, as  shown  on the   famous Metternich stele.   And Saint
George and the dragon also call to mind the god Horus depicted  spearing Set,
often portrayed as an evil serpent.

In addition to the classical, Egyptian and Greek-Egyptian heritages in Coptic
art, there are   also  Persian,  Byzantine and Syrian  influences.   Egyptian
master weavers and artists were attracted to Persia in the third century with
the rise of the Sassanian kingdom before the founding of Constantinople. When
they returned to Egypt,   a  new Persian  repertory  of themes  like opposing
horsemen or two   facing  peacocks drinking  out  of  the same  vessel,   was
introduced  to Egypt.  Borrowing  from one culture  to  another  is a natural
process of cultural growth.  In the fourth  century, when Christianity made a
triumphal  entry into  the Roman  world the art  forms of ascendant Byzantium
spread to Egypt, and continued even after  the  Coptic Church broke away from
the Eastern Roman Church because Egypt remained,  politically, a  part of the
Roman Empire. The Copts, however, began to turn increasingly towards the Holy
Land, the birthplace of the Lord Jesus Christ; Syrian influence on Coptic art
became apparent in the fifth century. And, rigidity came with it. Some motifs
that made their way  to Egypt from  Syria were ultimately  of Persian origin,
including animals and birds in roundels, and griffins.

The  integration of    contrasting configurations   --  classical,  Egyptian,
Greek-Egyptian and Persian   pagan motifs,  as well as  Byzantine and  Syrian
Christian  influence -- led to  a trend in Coptic  art  that  is difficult to
define, because a unity of  style is not   possible to trace.  Unfortunately,
early collections of Christian art were made without recording details of the
sites from which they came, making it  virtually impossible to trace artistic
development  through time. There  is no way  to  tell, for example,  how long
classical  and   Greek-Egyptian   motifs  continued  after  the   adoption of
Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire. All  that can be said
is that Coptic art  is a distinctive  art, and that  it differed from that of
Antioch, Constantinople and Rome.

Evolution of Coptic Art
Efforts have  been  made  to  classify Coptic  art   into epochs but this  is
somewhat artificial. While every  culture has phases of  cultural production,
this is visible only when seen from an historical vantage.  E.R. Dodds in his
book (Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety)  comments on  this by saying:
``The practice of chopping history  into convenient lengths  and calling them
"periods" or "ages"  has [...]  drawbacks. Strictly speaking,  there  are  no
periods  in  history,  only in   historians'  analyses;  actual history is  a
smoothly flowing continuum, a day following a day''.

This  is  true of art  in general and Coptic art  in particular.  Day by day,
through the centuries  of Ptolemaic  rule,  while the  Greek   culture became
inextricable from the ancient  Egyptian, a national heritage still  remained.
This   apparent  contradiction   is best  exemplified   by  referring to  the
literature of the Late Period, in which such syncretistic compilations as the
Hermetic   texts developed  alongside a more    or less consistent pattern of
thought and behavior, as exemplified in  the  Instruction literature. In art,
the diverse influences resulted in an admixture of motifs. Yet, despite this,
distinctive ``Egyptian'' traits set Coptic art apart from any other.

The influence of the different powers on the development of Coptic art can be
clearly seen by  examining  the famous monasteries  of Wadi ElNatroun. During
the fourth and fifth centuries,  these monasteries were affected by factional
disputes  between the Melkites  and  Coptic  monks.  The Melkites remained in
control until  the Arab conquest when  the  Copts took over  the  area again.
Then, in the eighth century one of the monasteries was purchased and restored
by a Syrian. There were serious Bedouin raids from the eighth to the eleventh
centuries.  An essential part of any Monastery is a large stone ``fortress'',
where  monks would hide  in the event of  a Bedouin raid.  While ``portable''
precious artwork was easy to hide in these fortresses, a great deal of damage
was done to the ancient churches and buildings of  the  Monasteries. In these
raids, the Bedouins would rob the monsateries of treasures and staples, often
killing any monks who would not have made it to  the fortresses, and sometime
burning most of  the churches and  buildings,  along  with whatever  artwork,
books, and records in there.

The  Coptic monasteries  in  Wadi  ElNatroun were  restored in Fatimid times,
during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and  the Fatimids  themselves used
local craftsmen,  who were mostly  Copts, for enlarging and  embellishing the
city of Cairo; when Copts executed designs and motifs that were acceptable to
their Arab patrons, they  did this as  competently as they had,  in classical
times, produced classical themes for  their Greek patrons.  In each case they
adopted some of the motifs or designs for their own use. therefore,  when one
visits the monasteries of Wadi ElNatrun,  it must be borne  in mind that some
wall-paintings were produced under the instructions of Melkites monks, others
under  the  instructions of Coptic  monks.   Also, Alexandrine, Byzantine and
Syrian-inspired art were produced there, as well as non-figurative metalwork,
wooden sanctuary screens, cabinets and furniture, inspired by Persian art.

In studying the objects in  the Coptic Museum of Cairo  and in various Coptic
Museums all over the world,  as well as in  the various monastic centers,  it
becomes clear that some sophisticated work must  have been produced by highly
talented craftsmen. At the same time, though, other  work is characterized by
folk simplicity.  This can be  seen in ivory  work, tapestries, paintings and
architectural  decorations.  There is    a convincing  explanation   for this
discrepancy in sophistication.

Egypt  had a  long tradition  of  master craftsmen of  different trades  who,
throughout  ancient history, worked under the  direction  of a supervisor who
was a  highly  professional  man: sometimes  a  High Priest   (as in the  Old
Kingdom) or an Overseer  of  All the Works  of the  King (New  Kingdom).  The
supervisor could  recognize inferior    workmanship,   correct  drawings  and
generally maintain the required standard, whatever that happened to be during
different periods. If  there were changes  in the theme  or style, this could
only be brought about  by the  master craftsman who  was empowered to execute
the change. Naturally such a  man had an experience in  handling large groups
of men. Throughout the period of Roman rule of Egypt there was a tendency for
such master craftsmen to move  around  the Roman empire,  gravitating towards
the  centers  that could pay for their  professional services. They worked in
Alexandria and  summoned by the emperors to  Rome and  Constantinople.  There
they sculpted classically  draped forms   as competently as   they  had   the
stylized Egyptian, and  they carved languid  reclining figures  with no  less

Scholars are not in agreement over which works  of art can be safely regarded
as   Alexandrine  --  that   is to say,  executed  by   Egyptian craftsmen in
Alexandria.  Many  such  works, however,  can be  safely attributed to  Egypt
through consideration of subject matter and/or style.  Examples of such works
include a casket  now in the museum   in Wiesbaden  that  is  sculpted with a
sphinx and the  allegory of Father Nile, a  small  box  in the British Museum
showing the squat,   typically Coptic figure  of Saint  Mena in  a niche, and
three plaques from the side of Maximianus' throne at Ravenna Museum that have
been attributed by art historians to Egyptian carvers.  Also,  when the Copts
separated from  the Eastern  Church, master craftsmen who   had  mastered the
technique of deeper drill  carving and supervised  the  execution of works of
great sophistication, ``vide'' the stucco wall decorations to be found in the
Monastery of the Syrians at  Wadi ElNatrun and the friezes  from Bawit in the
Coptic Museum of Cairo.

Meanwhile, however, monasteries and churches that were  built in Upper Egypt,
especially in the fifth  and sixth centuries, were adorned  with carvings and
paintings that show  an expression of  faith   that was  highly  personal and
authentic, executed by craftsmen   who  were  not  controlled  by either  the
rulings of ``religious authorities''  (as was the  case in ancient Egypt), or
by a supervisor who maintained standards. There  are stone and  wood friezes,
painted panels and ivory work that  is crude and  that depends for its appeal
largely   on qualities   of design. This    is  especially  apparent  in  the
representations of the human figure, which are  of strange  proportion, being
somewhat squat with  large heads.  Several explanations  for  this have  been
made. The most convincing of these explanations  suggests that Coptic artists
were producing work in reaction to the realism of  ancient Egyptian and Greek
paganism and that this, too,  is  the  reason why   early Christians did  not
encourage the production of statuary in the round. While the  tendency seems,
indeed,  to  have been a departure   from Hellenistic Alexandrine  tradition,
towards an abstract two-dimensional style, this may not necessarily have been
calculated.  Rather, it may be an example of free artistic expression: naive,
unsophisticated, yet forceful. It is the simplicity of  Coptic Art that gives
it its unique flavor.

There are two art forms in which continuity of craftsmanship  can  be traced,
namely the techniques of weaving  and illustration.  That  is  to say, Coptic
textiles and manuscripts. While the motifs in the former, and the calligraphy
in the latter, changed from age to age, the  artistic  execution of the work,
as well   as the  techniques  and  the  materials used, was  of  longstanding

Weaving in the early Christian era was, as in  earlier times, mainly on linen
although there  is also some evidence  of silkweaving. the techniques  -- the
so-called tapestry-weave and loom weaving -- were inherited from  the ancient
Egyptians.  The width of the  loom used in Coptic tapestries  is  the same as
that in the time of the pharaohs, and the  special ``Egyptian knot'' was used
as  well.   in  the fourth  century wool  was  introduced and  a  variant was
loopweaving, in which the waft was  not pulled  tight. Silk became popular in
the sixth century and by  the eighth  century full clerical tunics were woven
in linen and silk.  The weaving  of some are so  fine as to  appear more like

Coptic textiles,  which developed into one of  the finest of all Coptic arts,
included   wall  hangings, blankets and curtains    in  addition  to  garment
trimmings.  The   motifs  show great    diversity  and include  classical and
Greek-Egyptian themes:  lively cupids, dancing  girls riding marine monsters,
or  birds and animals   woven  into foliage. Fish  and  grapes  were  popular
Christian motifs as  well as biblical  scenes such as the  Virgin on a donkey
holding  the Child Jesus  in  front  of her. After Constantinople became  the
capital of the  empire, the  weavers' repertoire  was increased  and enriched
with Byzantine  and Persian  themes. All the textiles show  a great sense  of
liveliness in the stylized figures, and there  was an eager market throughout
the  Roman world in  late  antiquity,  especially for  trimings for  clerical
robes; the  most  commonly woven  were tunics  of   undyed   linen onto which
decorative woven bands  were  worked. In  the tenth century,  after  the Arab
conquest, Copts  wove  textiles for Muslim  patrons   and  the Arab ``Kufie''
script was introduced into their own designs, especially after Arabic started
to replace the Coptic language one century later.

Coptic manuscripts fall into five main groups: in Greek, Greek and Coptic, in
Coptic, Coptic and Arabic  and,  finally in Arabic and transliterated Coptic.
The art of  illustrating  texts dates to  pharaonic   times when prayers  and
liturgies were written on papyrus paper  with reed pens and deposited  in the
tomb of the  deceased. The mortuary texts were  traced in black  outline with
catchwords  written in red.  They were illustrated  with  figures of Egyptian
deities and protective  symbols.  These  vignettes were frequently painted in
bright colors with border designs at the top and bottom.

In the Christian era, religious  writings were also  written on papyrus paper
and parchment. The texts were written in black, with red  used for titles and
the beginnings  of the chapters.  Many were decorated  with designs in bright
colors including figures of Martyrs, Saints, Apostles, and Angels, as well as
birds, animals, foliage and geometrical designs. A medieval Arab writer, Omar
Tussun, wrote about a group of copyists  at the  Monastery of  Saint Makar in
Wadi  ElNatroun,  who were capable of  drawing Coptic letters  in the form of
birds  and   figures.  This is   still  an  art form in   Egypt,   and Arabic
caligraphers still use the reed pen -- an art that they  inherited from their
Coptic ancestors. Copts started to translate their  religious literature into
Arabic late in the twelfth century and decorated the opening page with lavish
pictures and with  border designs. It was  not  until  the nineteenth century
that Coptic texts transliterated using Arabic started to appear.

No other  early Christian  movement has  such  an  abundance of paintings  of
persons who received honour in  their own  country. Egypt's martyrs,  saints,
patriarchs,   hermits and  ascetics,  some of  whom were  honoured throughout
Christian world, received special distinction  in Egypt.  Their heroic deeds,
sufferings or miracles were  worded  in songs and pictured  on  the walls  of
ancient temples that were converted to chapels or churches.

The  human  figures, whether  in paintings,  carvings   or tapestries, are in
frontal  position with serene faces and  a depth of idealized expression. The
outlined, almond-shaped eyes are  strongly reminiscent of  the painted wooden
panels  from Bawit  and   the Fayoum, dating back to   the  first and  second
centuries, which were placed over the head of the deceased and bound into the
mummy wrappings.  These panels themselves resemble  ``cartonnage'' sacrophagi
of the late  pharaonic period. In  fact, the Fayoum  portraits, with the full
face and large obsessive eyes -- a feature of Roman medallions and much early
Christian art -- are now regarded by art historians as the prototypes for the
Byzantine icons.

The Lord Jesus Christ  was usually shown  enthroned, surrounded by triumphant
Saints and Angels, or blessing a figure beside Him. He was always depicted as
King, never the  suffering  servant. Egypt was   a land where leadership  was
idealized and kingship, both on earth and in the afterlife, was something the
people understood. A triumphant Jesus --  reborn, benevolent and righteous --
is one of the most significant and  continuous characteristics of Coptic art.
Another is that  Egyptians  did not  delight in  painting scenes of  torture,
death, or  sinners in hell;  in  the few exceptions  where   a holy figure is
painted undergoing torture,  it is implied rather than  graphically depicted.
This is in tune with ancient Egyptian artistic tradition  which, in the words
of Cyril Aldred (in his book Egyptian Art in the Days of the Pharaohs, Thames
and Hudson, 1980) ``magnify   only the heroic   and beneficent  qualities  of
divinities and kings, and not the horrific power of tyrants and demons''.

It is fitting to conclude this list of artforms  with Coptic paintings, which
is true art as  against what we  today call  the  crafts. The  wall paintings
reveal  an  unsophisticated,  almost  crude style,  and  a   refined,  highly
developed one. The former may have emerged in the early years of Christianity
when ancient temples were  converted into   churches. Pharaonic reliefs  were
covered with  layers of plaster  and Christian  themes  were  painted on  the
stucco base. These wall-paintings survive ``in situ'' in some places in Egypt
including Bagawat in the Kharga Oasis, Saint Simeon's Monastery  at Aswan, in
the  temple of Luxor,  the White  Monastery at Sohag,  the Monastery of Saint
Makar  in Wadi ElNatroun,  and the sanctuary  of   the Ethiopian  Saint Takla
Hemanout in the Church of AlMoallaka in Old  Cairo. Early wall-paintings that
have been transfered to the Coptic Museum include niches from the Monasteries
of Bawit and Sakkara. the Copts loved  bright, clear color and were extremely
talented in mixing different dyes and powdered rock, often using the white of
an egg to combine them.

Icons, or images of sacred personalities  painted on wooden  panels, that are
themselves regarded as sacred, were a later development. When it was realized
that the war on paganism launched by  the emperor Theodosius  had not stopped
pious people from sanctifying holy relics, the church authorized the painting
of religious themes that   would  aid  the  faithful in  an  understanding of
Christianity, especially scenes depicting the Nativity, the Virgin and Child,
the apostles and the lives  of the saints.  According  to the Arab  historian
AlMakrizi, the Pope Cyril I hung icons  in all the  churches of Alexandria in
the  year 420  A.D.  and then decreed  that they should  be hung in the other
churches of Egypt as well.

In the earliest development of  icon painting the  artists worked directly on
the wooden panel but later they began to cover the surface  with a soft layer
of gypsum onto which lines could be  chiseled to control  the  flow of liquid
gold. There is  indication that  more than  one  artist  was involved in  the
production of a  single  work but the  face was painted  by  the master. Such
division of labor resulted in greater production,  but it also brought an end
to  any personal expression  of   piety such as  had characterized  the  wall
paintings. When Egypt  turned increasingly towards Syria and  Palestine after
the schism in the fifth century, her saints and martyrs began to  take on the
stiff, majestic  look  of Syrian art.  There  began  to be an  expression  of
spirituality rather than naivety on the faces  of the subjects, more elegance
in the drawing of the  figures,   more use  of  gold  backgrounds and  richly
adorned clerical garments.

Painters were not, at first, constrained by a rigid  code.  They were free to
experiment with    their  themes.   Consequently,  there is  a    variety  of
interpretations in the treatment of a single  subject that is quite striking.
By the  fifth  and  sixth centuries  the   angel  Gabriel, for  example,  was
sometimes painted with a sword,  another time with a cross,  and on occasion,
with a trumpet;   he  either   wore  a flowing   robe or  was clad in  richly
embroidered vestments. Such variations are  especially  notable in scenes  of
the Annunciation and  the Nativity, which are seldom  rendered twice with the
same details.

Paintings produced in Egypt under Byzantine rule did not resemble the opulent
frescoes and mosaics of the eastern  Roman Empire, which  was state-sponsored
art between 550 A.D. and the conquest of the  Turks in the fifteenth century.
Saint Catherine's Monastery in Sinai,  however, a stronghold  of the  Melkite
faction, was rebuilt in the Golden Age of  Justinian and adorned with some of
the finest Byzantine icons  to be found in  the  world. Some were painted  on
site, and others  were imported  from the  provinces of  the empire  and from
Constantinople itself.

Few centuries after   the Arab conquest   of Egypt in   the   seventh century
paintings became successively less ``Coptic''  in character. This became even
more apparent  in the thirteenth  century when the art of  copying panels and
miniatures started    and Anba  Gabriel   produced exquisite  and brilliantly
adorned  work. He set  a  standard for   copyists. Little  original work  was
produced. By the  senventeenth  and eighteenth  centuries  painters like John
ElNassikh,  Baghdady Abu ElSaad,  and John the Armenian --  who are among the
greatest painters of icons in Egypt -- turned  to Syrian and Byzantine models
for inspiration. Finally, Anastasy, a Greek artist,  was  commissioned by the
Copts  to paint many of the  icons that  today hang   in the churches  of Old

Coptic Art History
The study of Coptic art  and architecture was for too  long a sadly neglected
field.  One of the reasons  for this  is that  early archaeologists showed no
interest in Christian antiquities.  They focussed  their attention on Ancient
Egypt. For example, it  is astonishing to us today  to note that Champollion,
the French scholar   who deciphered Hieroglyphics  from  the famous   Rosetta
Stone, carried out  excavations at Medinet  Habu   on the Theban  necropolis,
discovered a fine fifth century  church there and did not  even mention it in
his  official  report. In  places where   ancient  Egyptian temples  had been
converted into  churches  and the walls  plastered and painted with Christian
themes, these were removed  as  just so  much  debris obscuring the   ancient
Egyptian reliefs below.  No effort was made to photograph  the wall-paintings
before  removal, or record  any  architectural features.  Vital evidence  was
consequently lost from numerous temples including Deir el Bahri, Medinet Habu
and Karnak temples at Luxor, and those of Dendera and Edfu.

The first person to realize the value of the Coptic art and make an effort to
preserve it was the  French scholar Gaston Maspero. In  1881, in his capacity
as    director  of the   Egyptian    Antiquities    Service (now  Antiquities
Organization) he set aside one  of  the halls of  the Museum  of Antiquities,
then in the suburb  of Boulac,  for  the first collection  of Coptic art.  He
encouraged  Egyptologists to undertake   serious excavation, resulting in the
preservation of the remains of the Monastery of Saint Apollo  in Bawit, about
10 miles south-west  of  Assiut in  Middle Egypt, and  the Monastery of Saint
Jeremias on  the Sakkara  plateau. Several scholars published descriptions of
Coptic churches, carvings and crafts.

In 1910 the Coptic Museum was founded and in 1937  a new wing  was added. The
exhibits, which represent the richest collection of Coptic art  in the world,
have been separated according to media: stonework, woodwork, metalwork, ivory
carvings,  tapestries, pottery,  glassware  and  manuscripts. It is extremely
difficult  to  visualize them in  context when   one visits the  museum.  For
example,  patriarchal chairs  in woodwork in  the old wing are separated from
patriarchal crowns and ecclesiastical  vestments  that are in the new. Wooden
doors  of ancient  churches and monasteries   are separated from  their metal
bolts and keys.  Similar themes in  different mediums, like  the portrayal of
the Virgin and Child,   or the use of  vine  as a  decorative motif in  stone
carvings, wooden panels   and tapestries,   cannot  be compared.   And   wide
variations in  style   that developed  in   different localities  cannot  be
observed. Compounding the  problem is the fact that  the objects span fifteen
hundred years, from the fourth to the nineteenth centuries!

Nor do  the monastic   centers and  old  churches  of   Egypt   facilitate an
understanding of artistic  development because of   the continuous stages  of
construction and renovation of the churches. This is mainly attributed to the
fact that these sites are still used heavily by Copts for religious functions
as a result of a 20-year Governmental policy of not granting Copts permits to
build new churches or  Coptic  centers. Today, within  the limited  resources
]available to them, Coptic Christians are trying their best to preserve their
treasures. A  good example is the Monastery  of Anba Makar in Wadi ElNatroun,
which  (unlike other  poorly and   unprofessionally restored monasteries) was
miraculously dug out of the sand of the Western Desert! Thanks to the efforts
and hardwork of its monks,  the monastery of  Anba Makar  still possesses the
largest doom in Egypt, built completely using self-supporting woven small red

Restoration of Coptic Heritage
Only a decade ago, French and Dutch archaeologists were among the few foreign
experts who began restoring and preserving Coptic monuments.  Before this, in
view of the inaction  and limited resources  of Governmental agencies, Coptic
monks alone used  to fix  haphazardly  crumbling parts of  their churches and
monasteries. Many medieval Coptic churches are still in  a miserable state of
repair. Their facades are crumbling to dust and richly decorated walls inside
have been damaged by incense-burning rituals over the centuries that required
closed  doors and windows.  In addition, vacant monasteries  have  often been
inhabited by nomads, shepherds and their herds.

Several international organizations have recently extended  a helping hand to
the Copts in order to self-preserve and record  their heritage.  For example,
in  August of  1991, the Dutch  Ministry of Education has  proposed a program
whereby Dutch scholars will train Coptic monks in such fields as art history,
scientific methods  of  preservation  and care of  Coptic monuments, usage of
index systems and collecting data.  In the  summer  of 1990, a group of three
Coptic monks spent  six months last  year in the  Netherlands for training in
the history of   Christian art and   its preservation, and traveled  to other
European countries where   they became  acquainted  with  different Christian

The  history of Coptic   art  and culture   is  not taught   at  any Egyptian
University.   In order to provide  those  responsible for the preservation of
Coptic  art, in and  outside museums  in Egypt,  with courses concerning this
subject, Professor  Paul van  Moorsel   (Professor of Coptic  art at   Leiden
University, The  Netherlands)   has  taken the initiative   of offering  such
courses in Egypt.  The project is Called the Egyptian-Netherlands Cooperation
in Coptic  Art Preservation (ENCCAP)  and   is executed  by staff-members  of
Leiden University,   sponsored  by the   Netherlands Ministry for Development
Cooperation.  In   October of 1991,  the  first  courses  were  given at  the
Institute  of  Coptic Studies   at  the Patriarchate in  Abassiya,  Cairo. In
December  of  the   same  year, courses  commenced  at Deir   Anba Bishoi  in
Wadi-El-Natroun. In Cairo, the  lessons are given to  students professionally
involved with Coptic art and to all who are interested in these subjects. The
lectures in the monastery, however, are given to monks from all over Egypt.

So far, six monasteries have been represented by almost 30 monks. Apart from
the  lectures  which  deal with  Christian art in general and  Coptic art in
particular, the monks are given  practical  lessons. This  has so  far meant
excursions to the  monasteries in  Wadi-El-Natroun to see the  churches with
their  wall-paintings and icons and to  discuss the problems  concerning the
preservation of this heritage for the future. The training aims at  teaching
the  monks  to  do  research  in  the  field  of  iconography,  history   of
architecture and other fields of history art.

There are many other  efforts to record and learn  about Coptic art.   In the
Cairo-based Institute of Coptic  Studies, for example, students  learn  about
Coptic Icons by  painting their own  reproductions using authentic dyes mixed
with special  oils and  egg white. Even  outside Egypt, in the United States,
two Coptic artists in residence in the Church  of St.  Mary  and St.  Mena in
Rhode Island, produce dozens of Coptic icons to embellish  Churches and homes
of Emigrant Copts.

Much  more work remains  to be done to save   an  integral   part  of Egypt's
history, culture, and art. This  can be only done  through a concerted effort
by the Egyptian people with the help of  national and international agencies.
The   first   step  is,   perhaps,  a  better education,  understanding,  and
appreciation of Coptic art among the public.