A Church not in retreat
The Coptic Symposium that took place last weekend at the monastery of Al-Azeb was the first such international gathering to be held in a provincial location. Jill Kamil describes documents that will help clarify the rich and complex heritage of Fayoum
Deir Al-Azeb was founded at some point during the 12th or 13th centuries, but ceased to function as a monastery in the 18th century. Today it is the residence of the bishops of Fayoum and the new church, popularly known as Deir Abra'am, is the burial place of the much loved bishop of Fayoum and Giza who died in 1914. This was the site chosen for last weekend's second international Coptic Seminar on Monasticism hosted by Bishop Abra'am of Fayoum. The participants were housed in the expansive retreat built for pilgrims, where the modest but comfortable two-roomed apartments were equipped with hot and cold running water. The restaurant was spacious and it was clear that much effort had gone into the planning of daily menus to cater to the some 150 participants and visitors. The auditorium was equipped with the latest technology, and a team of Coptic youths were ever on hand to fulfil requirements from moving a chair and table to a sunny area of the compound, to providing photocopies of required documents.
Click to view caption
Deans lead Bishop Abra'am of the Fayoum, who presided over the opening ceremony, into the lecture hall; an idealised icon of Anba Abra'am hung above a realistic portrayal on his reliquary (above) now replaced by another (below); the Monastery of the Archangel Gabriel at Naqlun (top); Painting of a youthful Jesus Christ in the Naqluni Monastery (above)
Known as "Little Egypt", Fayoum is home to Pharaonic, Greek, Roman, Coptic and Islamic monuments at numerous historic sites. The Monastery of Al-Azeb has made a concerted effort to preserve the history of this important area by studying its Coptic history and reviving ancient industries. A five-volume encyclopaedia compiled by a group of historians and Egyptologists is scheduled for publication by the end of this year. The presentations by scholars present at the seminar from as far afield as the United States to Poland and Russia clearly demonstrated the ever-growing interest in Egypt's Coptic heritage, while their papers showed the diversity of the multidisciplinary fields of research and their relationship to one another.
Many of the areas in Fayoum which were widely excavated -- and indeed exploited -- around and after the turn of the 20th century have now been lost. The province has been subjected to massive urban development and agricultural expansion, while many archaeological areas have come to grief through sheer neglect and the ravages of time. This important seminar has drawn attention to Fayoum's importance throughout history, from ancient to modern times, and also to the fact that some periods were more significant than others.
Bishop Suryal of Australia, acting on behalf of His Holiness Pope Shenuda, presided over the opening ceremony. He was introduced by Fawzi Estefanos, president of the St Mark Foundation for Coptic Studies, a group of historians who have chronicled various areas of monastic activity in Egypt. Bishop Suryal outlined the history of Fayoum, mentioned the historical continuity that characterises it, and also spoke of how the modest efforts of the founders of the St Mark Foundation have now been developed. He mentioned the First International Symposium on Monasticism in Wadi Natrun two years ago; the current, larger gathering now being held; and also the activities of the St Mark Foundation's "sister institution", the St Shenuda of Los Angeles Society under Hani Takla.
AN ENDURING TRADITION
In view of the fact that the symposium was held at the site of the relics of Anba Abra'am, Zuzana Skalova's presentation -- dedicated to the host of the seminar Anba Abra'am III -- was both timely and appropriate. Anba Abra'am served as bishop between 1881 and 1914 and was venerated as a living saint for his piety and services to the poor. He was consequently canonised 50 years after his death. Skalova related how, in 1987, the relics of the holy man were transported from his original modest tomb to a new shrine, where his reliquary became the focus of his growing cult. The purpose of her paper was to outline the life of the Christian Egyptian canonised only four decades ago, trace the interaction between the revival of modern Coptic monasticism, the spreading cult of Saint Anba Abra'am, and what she called "the visual piety of this specific locum blending Ancient Egyptian traditions with patriotic poetic licence". Who were the religious Copts behind such a powerful visual homage, she asked, and who was the painter?
Anba Abra'am's burial on 10 June 1914 was attended by more than 10,000 mourners. His remains were deposited in a tomb he had prepared for himself under the south altar of the Church of St Mercurius at Deir Al-Azab. "Then, on 6 May 1987, our host, who was himself consecrated by the current Patriarch Shenuda III, initiated the transportation of his holy predecessor's relics from the unmarked church tomb to a newly-built shrine," Skalova said as she screened images related to the event. One was a painting that showed two bishops lifting up the small, half-open coffin with the saint's uncorrupted body; the second, larger picture showed seven Coptic bishops carrying the coffin bearing the relics of their admired predecessor into the new shrine. A third showed the holy man's body transformed into the bishop's effigy by means of ceremonial episcopal liturgical dress, staff, white tiara and a painted realistic portrait laid over the head-end, and enclosed in its glassed shrine. A second image of the saint -- a portable icon, perhaps a replica of the saint's official portrait familiar from photographs -- was hung above the casket. "This charming, modern combination of two ancient variants of a holy likeness on display in a modern Coptic shrine should not be perceived as fanciful," Skalova said. "It suggests a strong historical link between the transformation of funerary [memorial] portraits into an icon. We have evidence here, in this reliquary to a modern saint, that an age-old tradition has survived. Shrines for saints and the transportation of relics by the faithful are a part of an ancient tradition," she added. "The transportation of the relics of Anba Abra'am demonstrates a profound knowledge of the past, an echoing of ancient ritual."
Participants and guests who visited the new museum in which the memorabilia and shrine of Anba Abra'am are on display were in for a surprise. Until last year, the portrait on the saint's reliquary was the realistic portrayal described above, but this has now been replaced by another idealised painted effigy. It appears that various covers placed on relics themselves become regarded as holy by contact with the saint, and so they are periodically removed and replaced by others.
PORTRAITS INFLUENCE ICONS
The subject chosen by Marie-Helene Rutschowscaya of the Louvre for her paper was the influence on the first Coptic icons of painted portraits inserted into mummy wrappings -- known as Fayoum portraits because the greatest number have been found there. "From the end of the third century BC a mingling of the Egyptian population with Greek settlers in Egypt began to take place, and the adoption by the Greeks of local social and religious customs led to a fusion of artistic styles and iconography, which was in turn fully developed after the Roman conquest," she said. "It is in the funerary context, and particularly in the art of the portrait, that this fusion of the Egyptian and Graeco-Roman traditions can be appreciated most fully. It is a combination which produced works as beautiful as any previous pieces."
Rutschowscaya summarised Ancient Egyptian beliefs and rituals in which the dead were laid in man-shaped coffins with a cartonnage mask made of pressed papyrus or packed fabric decorated with traditional motifs. These innovations were introduced in the first century AD when the cartonnage mask was replaced by a plaster mask or bust sculpted in the ground, or by wooden boards or shrouds painted with the image of the deceased. She traced antecedents to this work to painted portraits found in Rome, Herculaneum and Pompeii, "themselves most likely descended from a more ancient tradition originating in Greece", and mentioned that the Greeks and Romans used portraits either to glorify the person during his or her own lifetime, or to honour the memory of the deceased. In Egypt, she said, ancestor worship was consistent with the need felt by each Egyptian to keep the features of the deceased alive in order to ensure survival in the afterlife, to the extent that some of these paintings (sometimes placed in a wooden frame) were commissioned during the subject's lifetime for use in the individual's family home. Framed panel paintings of ancient gods such as Serapis, Harpocrates, Sobek and Min were widely known in Egypt in the Roman era. Because of their clearly cultic purpose, these could be termed as "icons", Rutschowscaya said. "So these works clearly anticipate the early Christian icons. Moreover, Christian authors have compared the Christian cult of icons with the pagan veneration of gods through icons in the home. Analysis of Christian paintings in the department of Egyptian antiquities in the Louvre proves that the painters continued to use the same media [tempera and encaustic] and pigments known since earliest times in Egypt," she concluded.
The subject of the so-called Fayoum portraits was presented in another paper. Sigfried Richter raised the issue of whether or not the portraits were painted during the lifetime of the person portrayed, and to which social or ethnic group they might have belonged.
Along with such clear evidence of continuity, Wilfred Grigg's talk on the Brigham Young University excavations at a burial ground at Tebtunis (Umm Al-Buraygat) gave rise to an animated discussion. The site covers 300 acres, with grounds dating from the Middle Kingdom from about 2000BC through to the Christian era. Although evidence of Christianity in Fayoum dating from before the third century is somewhat scarce, Grigg pointed to a change in burial practices in the first century "suddenly, with no overlap".
He referred to the dead being buried facing the west in Pharaonic times and then, as is the case in this burial ground, eastern oriented. What accounted for this change? Did eastern orientation indicate that Christianity became so widespread in the first century that it effectively put an end to longstanding burial customs -- "which would indeed be remarkable", Grigg suggested. He raised the question of whether other burial grounds also underwent such a change in ritual practice. If so, he wondered, how many other burial grounds show such a clear break with tradition? Might not the change in orientation of the bodies in this specific burial ground indicate that these were later inhabitants of Egypt? Clearly the questions remain open.
On the subject of Umm Al-Buraygat, Ramez Boutros presented a paper on surviving Christian monuments. He described the once-flourishing town of impressive size -- the largest settlement in Fayoum, covering an area of some 800 metres from north to south and 670 metres from east to west. Today it is largely littered with column bases, pottery shards and a large brick building on top the Graeco-Roman structures, indicating occupation in the Christian and Islamic Periods. The site was not mentioned by ancient historians, and everything we know about it comes from recent archaeological discoveries and papyri found during excavations. Boutros outlined the work carried out by many of his colleagues at neighbouring areas, and talked about the Byzantine occupation of the site "on which there remain many unanswered questions". He mentioned that 95 per cent of the area is still unexplored, even though there is every indication that it would offer invaluable material on the growth and spread of Christianity in a large and expansive Fayoum community.
HERMITS AND HERMITAGES
Among the earliest Christians in Fayoum were those who escaped Roman persecution, especially in the reign of Diocletian. Many sought refuge in the desert of Naqlun, a narrow stretch of limestone rock and desert that lies between the southeastern part of the Fayoum depression and the Nile valley. This strip of barren land provided an ideal retreat, and hermits took up a life of seclusion in rock-cut caves, or hermitages. Studies of the hermitages in the 1,500-metre long hilly ridge to the east of the Naqlun desert have been carried out by the Polish Centre since 1986. Wlodzimierz Godlewski, who gave a short history of the region, said that the earliest date from the fourth and fifth centuries, but that similar rock- cut hermitages were built until the seventh and eighth centuries and continued to be used up to the 12th.
They lie in different valleys, but the largest number is on the northwest section of the range. Those which have been cleared have proved to be of various sizes. Some were unfinished caves which were abandoned when still being hewn; others were single rooms with extensions to the north, probably for sleeping; while yet others were two-roomed caves. The majority had a similar system of organisation with two, three or four rooms in a unit, a courtyard and kitchen quarters. Some hermitages are 100 metres apart, while others are separated by no more than a wall.
Godlewski described what appears to be the oldest hermitage, No.44, which lies in the northwest part of the range. It was abandoned when the roof caved in, but excavations have revealed a large complex with a spacious courtyard leading to another area. This may have been designed for domestic purposes, since excavations have brought to light two bread ovens. A complex of rooms included one large, plastered hall with a bench running along three sides, clearly a place for receiving guests. Visits were exchanged, frequently undertaken to ask the advice of an elder. Godlewski also mentioned hermitage No.89 which was made for a single person, obviously the most important member of the community.
The hermitages, which were warm in winter and cool in summer, were cut by skilful workers, not the monks themselves. They were carefully plastered inside and out to protect the surface of the rock and, though graffiti or inscriptions are rare, some of the walls were painted with crosses or had borders. Each had a courtyard in front of the cave, surrounded by a wall and a well-built entrance with traces of the doorway visible from inside. Niches are a typical feature, perhaps to hold an icon, or for lamps, or for the storage of manuscripts. Some hooks to hang mats separated one room from another. Another feature of the hermitages is a pit, probably for storing special goods, and a cavity in front of the window where small pottery jars of water were kept cool.
Godlewski talked about monks and hermits living in close proximity in Naqlun, and mentioned evidence that the monks were involved in educating the people in surrounding villages. He spoke about trade, especially the distribution of textiles on the market, as well as the social life of the monks. "In the fifth and sixth centuries monasticism was fully established in the region, and records show that there were once as many as 35 monasteries," he said. "The earliest probably lies to the east and northeast of the present monastery where a vast mound stretches to the edge of the cliff. It covers an area much larger than the present complex, and undoubtedly served a large community of cave-dwelling monks in the fifth century."
When the Polish Centre undertook the task of studying, documenting and restoring the religious monuments in the Naqlun desert in 1976, no comprehensive study had ever been carried out. It was necessary to start with a survey of the entire area: to study the hermitages and cemeteries, to draw up a map of the complete monastic complex of which the Church of the Archangel Gabriel was the main feature, and to excavate the site of the earlier church that dates from the late fifth century and appears to have been destroyed in the fire that engulfed the monastery. The extent of this conflagration can be seen in the extensive evidence of burnt-out building walls that created deposits of ash. Pottery found in the debris, coupled with a gold coin found in a layer of ashes, dates the catastrophe to the year 892. "This fire was a turning point in the architectural history of the monastery," Godlewski said, explaining that an entire new complex was subsequently erected in the central plateau.
WALL PAINTING CONSERVATION
The Monastery of the Archangel Gabriel, one of the oldest in Fayoum, comprises a church connected with a complex of buildings dating from different periods The church interior was largely rebuilt, renovated and redecorated over the course of time. Originally planned as a basilica, it is now divided into four sections: a choir, nave, narthex and three haikals. When work started on preserving the wall paintings in 1991, the monastery was a solitary structure in a barren desert. There was no running water or electricity, and the church itself was in a shocking condition. It had a leaking roof and serious flaking of the walls had caused seemingly irreparable damage to the surviving reliefs.
Ewa Parandowska gave an idea of the complexity of the task of conserving the paintings by explaining that in the latter part of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, the church was largely rebuilt. "A thick wall separating the nave and the narthex was erected, the rotten and insect-infested wooden beams were cut off, and a new ceiling was constructed over the church narthex, supported on new palm- wood beams. The upper border of the murals was damaged as a result of lowering the church roof, a window was cut in the western wall above the entrance, and the original painting surface was pitted, the images covered with a new layer of plaster composed of gypsum, lime and chaff. As you
can imagine," she went on, "when the fragmentarily- preserved compositions were discovered, they did not arouse as much enthusiasm from the monks as from the members of our expedition."
The roof had to be rebuilt and architectural elements consolidated before work could even begin. Parandowska mentioned that some renovation carried out on the inside of the church by the monks in 1990 had resulted in the discovery of a set of murals on the walls. Following this exposure, a Polish mission started its programme of conservation which continued until 1997. "Studies on the inscriptions discovered in the cleaning process enabled us to date the wall paintings, which seem mostly to have been painted in the early 11th century, and to identify the name of the artist who painted them," she said. She added that the oldest composition, in the central niche of the church apse, could be assigned provisionally to an earlier period, namely the ninth and tenth centuries.
Parandowska described the various steps taken in the conservation of the paintings, from the removal of modern layers of plaster to details of the techniques. These included retouching the paintings and the final aesthetic treatment known in conservation terminology as aqua sporca or "dirty water". She screened a series of illustrations of the surviving wall reliefs, including a representation of Christ in Glory painted on a conch shell, 12 apostles on each side of a window grille decorated with a cross, and the name of the archimandrite Papnute.
During work on a poorly preserved representation of the Virgin and Child in the central niche of the church, dislodged pieces of plaster revealed an earlier painting in a much better state of preservation. The condition of the outer work was such that it could not be consolidated in situ, so it was professionally removed and transferred to an artificial support for display inside the
church. "Now, instead of the Virgin Mary and Child that can be dated to 1020 adorning the central niche, we have the earlier composition -- a youthful bust of Christ provisionally dating from the ninth century."
MONKS AND MONASTIC LIBRARIES
Two holy fathers presented papers at the symposium: Bishop Matheos of Cairo and Father Bigoul Al-Suriani of Wadi Natrun. The former talked about monastic links between the monasteries of Wadi Natrun and those of Fayoum. He showed to what extent the latter provided a safe refuge for monks during a series of Berber attacks on Wadi Natrun between the fifth and eighth centuries. Himself a monk from the Monastery of the Syrians, Bishop Matheos detailed no fewer than five serious attacks by these aggressive desert tribes. He described how the monks who escaped death, especially in the years 570 and 631, founded hermitages in mountain caves in Fayoum and constructed monastic centres which rose in number from 24 to 120. "Fayoum was also a place of refuge for monks during the terrible oppression under Al-Hakim bi 'Amr Allah when thousands of churches were destroyed," Bishop Matheos said, adding that the relationship between the two monastic centres continued until today.
Father Bigoul Al-Suriani of the Monastery of the Virgin Mary at Wadi Natrun presented a longer paper in which he outlined the part played by monks in preserving the literary heritage of Fayoum, particularly by Father Yuhanna Al- Fayoumi, abbot of the Syrian monastery between 1796 and 1830. "Yuhanna Al-Fayoumi of Al-Roda village in Fayoum," (who, he stressed, should not be confused with Yuhanna Al- Fayoumi, ordained by Pope Cyril V as bishop of Tig) "was a scribe, paper conservator, painter, binder, leather decorator, curator in addition to his other responsibilities. Some eminent monks at Wadi Natrun from the 13th through to the 19th centuries had 'Fayoumi' backgrounds," Father Bigoul added.
The library of Yuhanna Al-Fayoumi's monastery housed some 400 volumes, most of which were dedicated by people from Fayoum province. Foremost among these was Father Yuhanna himself, "a man of integrity and a scribe who copied damaged texts. He was also a professional binder and a prolific restorer of manuscripts who recorded his comments on some of them." For example, on scriptural manuscript 12 dated 1276, Yuhanna Al-Fayoumi wrote that he had copied it because of "the torn nature of the original". On others he mentioned that he could not proceed with the work due to a lack of suitable paper with which to restore the manuscript.
Father Bigoul talked at length about Yuhanna Al-Fayoumi's conservation methods and said that he had expanded his activities to become library curator. "To him we owe the first trial subjective classification of the manuscripts in our library," he said. Yuhanna Al-Fayoumi wrote that he put two volumes in one binding because "we are in need of both". He also wrote about a neglected volume found in a church niche that contained 425 liturgical manuscripts which he "revived again" because they were "very poor".
"Yuhanna Al-Fayoumi bought new volumes, did illuminations and re-sewed loose manuscripts," Father Bigoul said. "His accuracy, care and dedication cannot be overestimated. It is thanks to him, the most accomplished scribe, restorer and curator of his time, that the library was saved from the travellers and bibliophiles who pillaged our literary heritage." He added that Yuhanna Al-Fayoumi had helped maintain the libraries of neighbouring monasteries and encouraged his contemporary, Father Attia, abbot of St Macarius' Monastery, to copy manuscripts and maintain that
monastery's library. He also noted that he may have brought two Syrian liturgical volumes dated 1784 from the St Macarius scriptorium which Father Attia had restored.
THE HAMULI MANUSCRIPTS
No symposium about the history of Christianity and monasticism in the region of Fayoum would be complete without a presentation about the famous group of parchment books generally known as the Hamuli manuscripts. This was the subject of the talk by Stephen Emmel.
Hamuli is the name of a modern village, and although the majority of texts in this collection are works written by authors who had little or nothing to do with Fayoum directly, nevertheless, in the words of Emmel, "The contents of the manuscripts as a whole are of interest in a sense that is relevant to the topic of the symposium, because it is indisputable that these books belonged to a monastery in Fayoum -- and so the books tell us something about the character of at least one monastic library in the region."
Of the monastery in question we know almost nothing, except that it was originally located at the western edge of the desert at a place called Phantoou, at the modern village of Hamuli. Also, the books, which date to the ninth and early tenth centuries, were dedicated to the Archangel Michael. The manuscripts were mostly instructive about the liturgical life of the monastic community, and their purpose appears to have been public reading during church services. This was indicated by the size of the books which were designed to be set out on lecterns and read easily, even from a distance, Emmel pointed out. "They were not pocketbooks for personal devotional reading."
Many of the Phantoou manuscripts are remarkably well preserved. Some include large front pieces, showing that the scriptorium enjoyed the presence of expert copyists as well as skilled artists and painters. There can be no doubt that this was an important scribal centre in the tenth century, and it gives us an idea of what the contents of the White Monastery of St Shenute must once have been like. "Now the books of the White Monastery are scattered in several dozen collections from Cairo across Europe to North America -- they are a chaotic and complex jigsaw puzzle," Emmel said. "All those that remain on site are isolated leaves or torn scraps of manuscripts." The Phantoou manuscripts, on the other hand, which were accidentally discovered in 1910, were acquired as a unit by John Pierpoint Morgan and the bulk of the collection is in the library of that name in New York City. The texts, which give us complete copies of Coptic literature, were published immediately after they were acquired and are available to Coptologists in a photographic facsimile edition. "If only Fayoum and its monasteries could bequeath to us hundreds more books like the ones that have come to us from St Michael's at Phantoou," said Emmel.
COPTS IN MEDIAEVAL TIMES
Another church was constructed around the burnt ruins of the old church, northwest of the present monastery of the Archangel Gabriel at Naqlun. It can be identified with the church of the Archangel Michael referred to by the Arab historian Abu Makarim (Abu Saleh) and which he visited in the 12th century. This new church can be dated, on the strength of pottery found there, to the sixth century, but it was later superimposed by a three-aisle church and fragments of wall paintings which suggest a period between the 10th and 11th centuries.
With the passage of time, graves were added to the neighbourhood and eventually overran the ruins of the earlier building, already covered by sand. So far 373 burial sites have been uncovered. They seem to have been simple earth mounds piled over actual graves, but it is clear from funerary remains that this cemetery served the Christian population of Fayoum during the Fatimid, Ayyubid and early Mameluke periods. The dead included men, women and children from the local Coptic community, presumably of Fayoumi origin, and, interestingly, not one of the burial sites reveals any feature to connect it with the monastic community. "Only two graves may be identified as belonging to members of the lower clergy," Godlewsky said. One burial site contained, close to the head of the deceased, glass flasks, a wooden pen case, and a Coptic codex of 72 paper cards -- a fully preserved Gospel of St John which dates from 1100.
The dead were laid to rest in wooden coffins covered with linen shrouds and, in some cases, mats. Textiles put inside the coffins included linen shawls and wraps characteristic of the Late Fatimid and Ayyubid periods, decorated with geometrical, floral and animal motifs and framed with bands of Arabic inscriptions embroidered in silk. There were also some glass vessels (presented in a paper by Maria Mossakowska-Gauber); basketry (the subject of Annetta Lyzwa- Piber); tunics in which the deceased were laid to rest (Barbara Czaja-Szewczak), and a paper by Tomaz Derda on Greek papyri discovered at Naqlun.
An interesting study of social and economic activities of the monastery of Qalamun in the 15th century was presented by Yuhanna Nessim Youssef, while notes on the Coptic church in the Fayoum region in Mameluke and Ottoman times was the subject of a paper by Magdi Guirgis.
In listening to Christian Gaubert's paper of the Fatimid archives of Girga found in the monastery of Naqlun, at the site of the Polish excavations, I could not help but consider the dearth of such records in the future with so much of our personal correspondence on e-mail simply erased. He described 51 documents belonging to a single Coptic family named Banu Bifam, in which there are commercial transactions and private letters, official acts of buying and renting land and houses, for two generations from 992 to 1029 -- a record of strategies for keeping land through marriage and how the family increased their wealth through selling their land production. Many such records will easily disappear in today's world.
THE FUTURE OF COPTIC STUDIES
The interdisciplinary approach to archaeology as revealed by the excavations at Naqlun and elsewhere in Fayoum, and presented at this seminar and the earlier one in Wadi Natrun, is a clear indication of the value of international gatherings at monastic sites. They provide avenues through which to begin collating the wide variety of diverse material, not the least of which are the texts inscribed on miscellaneous objects.
As pointed out by Jacques van der Vliet in his reconstruction of the epigraphic landscape for Christian Fayoum, funerary inscriptions (which show Fayoumi-Sahidic linguistic development), monumental dedicatory inscriptions, inscriptions on wall paintings in churches and monasteries, as well as on various objects of art including textiles, are vitally important for our clearer understanding of the material remains. Such seminars also provide a forum in which evidence of Islamic influence on Coptic art can be discussed and resultant change and continuity in various fields defined. For example, at one end of the spectrum we have the survival of the Pharaonic tradition, and, on the other, evidence of to what extent Islamic art influenced the late Coptic. More important, it might encourage increasing participation by Egyptians.
Perhaps a clue should be taken from the Polish Centre, which encourages non-professional master's students to give presentations on specialised subjects, and who, with the know-how of the younger generation in modern technology, have succeeded in giving concise, convincing and professional power-point presentations. Our young master's students should be encouraged to do likewise.
Gawdat Gabra, former director of the Coptic Museum and editor-in-chief of the St Mark Foundation for Coptic Studies, made a point of welcoming the recent participation of Russians in excavating Coptic sites such as Deir Al-Banat, and restoring churches and icons, but made no mention of the upcoming generation of Egyptian professionals, all too few of whom attended the seminar. I would also like to see a larger Egyptian turnout at the next seminar two years hence -- not only Coptic studies students, but also students of Pharaonic and Islamic history. This is, after all, part of their heritage.
Following the closing session and recommendations, participants were taken on a field trip to the Monastery of the Syrians at Wadi Natrun, followed by a drive back to Cairo to a reception in Wadi Digla. They were then taken to the residence of Pope Shenuda III in Abbasiya, where His Holiness thanked them for their participation and presented them with a personal gift: an icon of St Samuel.