Housing the world's largest collection of Coptic Christian artwork, this museum provides a link between ancient and Islamic Egypt. Remember that Christianity was not just a flash in the Egyptian historical pan. Saint Mark made his first convert in Alexandria in AD 61, and the majority of the city's population remained Christian until the 11th century, a half millennium after the Arabs brought Islam to Egypt. This link can be seen stylistically as well, because the collection
includes pieces with a late-pharaonic/Greco-Roman feel, as well as items identified as Islamic.
The museum is classified by medium, more or less. The first floor has carved stone and stucco, frescoes, and woodwork. The second floor includes textiles, manuscripts, icons, and metalwork. In some cases, chronological divisions are made within each grouping to show the evolution of the art form.
The collection includes many exquisite pieces, but several are noteworthy first for their quirkiness or their syncretism, rather than their beauty. Look, for example, at carvings and paintings that trace the transformations of the ancient key of life, the ankh, to the cross; or Christian scenes with Egyptian gods. The depictions of the baby Jesus suckling at his mother's breast are striking in their resemblance to pharaonic suckling representations, including one at Karnak in which the god Horus is being nursed by Mut. Such characteristics are unique to Egyptian Christianity.
See the 4th-century bronze Roman eagle on the second floor, and a 4th-century hymnal (in the Coptic language) that was found beneath a young girl's head in her shallow grave near Beni Suef. For a detailed guide of the museum, look for Jill Kamil's Coptic Egypt: History and Guide (American University in Cairo Press).
3 Shar'a Mari Girgis, Cairo, Egypt
Nov 18, 2002
Something that is missed on most people’s trip to Egypt is the Coptic culture. Coptic is the word the Arabs used, taken from the Greeks, to describe Egyptians. They are part of one of the most ancient branches of Christianity. They are only about 10 % of the population, yet are some of the most educated and successful people of the country. The prejudice and oppression by other Christians and Muslims made them stronger as people. As an infante,
they are tattooed with the sign of the Cross on their wrist. They speak a language, mainly in church, that is directly related to the language of the pharaohs.