25 February - 3 March 1999
Issue No. 418
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
Egypt Region International Economy Opinion Culture Features Travel Living Sports People Time Out Chronicles Cartoons Letters
Desert fathersMonasticism in Egypt: Images and Words of the Desert Fathers, Michael W. McClellan. American University in Cairo Press, 1998.
In the run up to the new millennium we can expect a plethora of books on Christianity. The American University in Cairo Press has started the ball rolling with Images and Words.
The black and white photos are the work of Michael McClellan, a "student of photojournalism," as he describes himself in his introduction, and his eye and lens have framed and captured delightful visions of the peaceful spiritual world of Egypt's desert fathers.
The words, which occupy the page facing each image, are extracts from the Paradise of the Fathers, tales of hermits and monks collected by Saint Palladius.
This is a noble effort, but is somewhat lacking in organisation: it could have done with greater quality control in printing, and a tighter editorial grip. The quality of the images is somewhat patchy and many pictures do not have captions.
The enigmatic image of the shadow of a cross against a rock opposite the title page - which was thought important enough to be chosen for the background of the cover - is not identified, and only on page 29, where a third and better quality image appears, do we learn that it is the shadow on the dome of Saint Paul's monastery. Likewise, the wonderful photograph of an icon at the mouth of a cave opposite the foreword by Pope Shenuda, has no caption, although later on in the book we are told that it is situated above the cave of Saint Antony.
I am also somewhat confused as to the purpose of the book. If it is designed for aesthetic appreciation and spiritual insight as the title suggests, why the surprising inclusion at the end of a historical outline by Otto Meinardus entitled "Monasticism in Egypt"? Was this to give more widespread appeal to the book? If so, it was unnecessary. Meinardus' new book on Christianity in Egypt is already in the pipeline.
Reviewed by Jill Kamil