Thursday,14 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1331, (9 - 15 February 2017)
Thursday,14 December, 2017
Issue 1331, (9 - 15 February 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Martyrs at the museum

An exhibition commemorating Egyptian martyrs was inaugurated at Cairo’s Coptic Museum earlier this week

El-Enany and Father Julius

Visitors to the Coptic Museum in Old Cairo will be able to visit a new special exhibition commemorating Egypt’s martyrs from the early Coptic era until the present day over the next 30 days, reports Nevine El-Aref.

The exhibition was inaugurated earlier this week by Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany and Father Julius of the Old Cairo Churches.


Martyrs at the museum

Entitled “Egyptian Martyrs”, the exhibition pays homage to Egyptian martyrs across the span of Egypt’s history with a focus on Copts who were killed during the period of religious persecution by the Romans in the early Christian era as well as Egyptians (whether Christians or Muslims) killed in terrorist attacks in recent years.

The exhibition goes from the earliest times to the recent sectarian attack against Christians in December 2016 at the St Peter and St Paul Church in Cairo that killed 28 people.


Martyrs at the museum

Ahmed Al-Nemr, supervisor of the Coptic Antiquities Department at the ministry, explained that the exhibition contained a dozen artefacts carefully selected from the Coptic Museum and photographs of recent martyrs and terrorist attacks.

The artefacts include icons, manuscripts and reliefs associated with religious martyrdom in Coptic history. Among the objects on show, Al-Nemr said, was the Defnar, a linen manuscript relating the history of Coptic martyrs. This dates back to 1445 CE and tells the story of Stephanos (St Stephen), a protomartyr, or first martyr in Christian tradition.


Martyrs at the museum

According to the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament of the Bible, Stephanos was a deacon of the Early Church in Jerusalem. He aroused enmity through his teachings, and, accused of blasphemy, he made a long speech denouncing the authorities sitting in judgment on him and was then stoned to death.

Three clay pots with large mouths used to preserve the remains of martyrs, an oil lamp bearing the name of a Coptic martyr and a bust of a female martyr are also on display, along with two icons.


Martyrs at the museum

The first of these, the St Basilides Icon, is made of wood and dates back to 1746. The icon was painted by artist John the Arminian and shows St Basilides, a soldier in the guard of the Roman prefect of Egypt and defender of St Potomiana. Guarding St Potomiana, Basilides defended her against a mob, earning the eternal gratitude of the Christian community.  

Soon after St Potamiana’s death, Basilides was asked by fellow soldiers to take an oath. He answered that he could not do so because of his Christian faith. Seeing that he was in earnest, the soldiers denounced Basilides and he was condemned to death.


Martyrs at the museum

While waiting in jail for the sentence to be carried out, some Christians visited Basilides and asked him how he had been converted.

He answered that three days after Potamiana’s death she had appeared to him and placed a crown on his head as a pledge that the Lord would soon receive him into His glory. Basilides was then baptised, and the next day he was beheaded.

The second icon, Al-Nemr said, was of St Quriaqos and his mother Julietta who according to Christian tradition were martyred in 304 CE in Tarsus.


Martyrs at the museum

Julietta and her three-year-old son Quriaqos along with two of her maids had escaped to Tarsus from the persecution of the Roman Emperor Gregarious. In Tarsus, she was tortured and her son, being held by the governor of Tarsus, scratched the governor’s face and was killed by being thrown down some stairs. Julietta did not weep, but instead celebrated the fact that her son had earned the crown of martyrdom.

The Roman governor decreed that Julietta’s sides be ripped apart with hooks, and then she was beheaded. Her body, along with that of Quriaqos, was thrown outside the city on a heap of bodies belonging to criminals. Her two maids later rescued the corpses of the mother and child and buried them in a nearby field.

A linen manuscript containing the biography of martyr Julius Al-Akfahsi, the author of a history of Egyptian martyrs, is also on show, as well as a synaxarion, the name given in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Christian churches to a compilation of hagiographies corresponding to the martyrology of the Roman Catholic Church.


Martyrs at the museum

“The oldest historical synaxaria apparently go back to the 10th century,” Al-Nemr said, adding that there were a great number of mediaeval versions extant in manuscript.

The one on show in the exhibition is a gift from the patriarchy and is composed of a number of linen manuscripts dating to 1429. It recounts events occurring during the first six months of the Coptic calendar and relates the stories of child martyrs.

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