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AMELIA EDWARDS’ VISIT TO THE OLD CHURCH OF ST. ANTHONY IN LUXOR IN 1874, HER ECNCOUNTER WITH BISHOP MATTAWUS, AND AN INTERESTING DISCUSSION ON COPTIC LANGUAGE AND ITS FATE

July 25, 2012

Figure 1: Amelia Edwards (1831 – 1892), in 1882, less than a decade after her travel to Egypt.

Figure 2: The 1st edition of A Thousand Miles up the Nile (Longmans, 1877).

Amelia Ann Blanford Edwards (1831 – 892) was a multitalented English woman – she wrote poems, novels and travel books, but her most passionate interest was Egyptology. This started in November 1873 when, at 42, she arrived in Cairo almost by chance “to get away from the rain in Europe, where she had been travelling with a friend. She stayed to become a leading Egyptologist”.[1] Her journey in the winter of 1873-1874 up the Nile from Cairo to Philae and Abu Simbel, where she and her friends remained for six weeks, and then down the Nile in a hired dahabiyeh resulted in the publication in 1877 of A Thousand Miles up the Nile,one of the great classics in the history of the Nile. The book includes 79 hand-drawn illustrations by Amelia Edwards herself – two of which have Coptic theme: “Early Christian shrine in Philae” and “Ruined Coptic convent near Philae”; which I reproduce here.

In 1882, Amelia Edwards co-founded with Reginald Stuart Poole (1832 – 1895), who worked at the British Museum, the Egypt Exploration Fund (later the famous Egypt Exploration Society) to advocate for research and preservation of ancient Egyptian monuments. She was also politically active in the suffragette movement. And when she died in 1892, she left her rich library to University College, London, and some money to found the first chair of Egyptology in England.

Amelia Edwards, whose contribution and influence are enormous on many fronts, is, therefore, a respectable character by all means. Hence, it is with great pleasure that I bring to the attention of my readers what Amelia Edwards had to say in her book about a visit to the Luxor Coptic church, on her return down the Nile one Sunday in early 1874; her lively description of a Coptic service and baptism of little Coptic girls; her encounter with the Coptic bishop and the interesting discussion with him about the Coptic language, “if he believed it to be the tongue actually spoken by the ancient Egyptians”, and his reply “Yes, undoubtedly. What else should it be?”, and “if the Coptic was in all respects a dead language” to which he gave a very interesting answer; her prediction of the fate of the Copts and Coptic that “[p]erhaps by the time our own descendent are counting the two thousandth anniversary of the Christian era, both Copts and Coptic will be extinct in Egypt”; and finally her favourable view of the Copts, unlike that of her compatriot Edward William Lane (as we shall see).

Amelia Edwards’ knowledge on Coptic theology and the difference between the Copts and the rest of Christians is a bit confused, like so many of European travelers in the 18th and 19th centuries; and she merely copy from Edward William Lane’s An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, “The Copts are Christians of the sect called Jacobites, Eutychians, Monophysites, and Monothelites, whose creed was condemned by the Council of Chalcedon in the reign of the Emperor Marcian.”[2] But the bad influence of Lane on her ends there, as we shall see.

Luxor (the site of the Ancient Egyptian city of Thebes), some 721 km south of Cairo, was then, as she tells us, “a large village inhabited by a mixed population of Copts and Arabs”;[3] and as we know from the bishop’s report to her, the majority of its inhabitants at the time were Copts, counting 2000, which comprised two-thirds of Luxor’s entire population.  “The Coptic quarter of Luxor lies north of the great pylon, and partly skirts the river. It is cleaner, wider, more airy than that of the Arabs.”[4]  The great pylon, Amelia Edwards speak of is, of course, the great pylon of Ramses II at the Luxor Temple, which lies on the eastern bank of the Nile. Ramses II’s pylon faces north, and from it the Avenue of the Sphinxes extends northward, reaching in the past the Temple of Karnak, which is some 2.5 km to the north.

In that town, Amelia Edwards met with the Prussian Consul, who was a Copt,[5] the young Tadroos who was the son of the Prussian Consul who conducted her and her friends to the church,[6] the “polite postmaster”,[7] who was also a Copt, and the Coptic Bishop, who lived “in a modest lodging built half beside and half over the Coptic church.”[8]

Amelia Edwards does not name the Coptic Bishop, but we know he was Anba Mattawus (Mathew) (1869 – 1876).[9] Luxor used to be the centre of one of the traditional twelve sees in which Coptic Egypt was divided, but, contrary to what she says, it wasn’t so when she visited Luxor in 1874. The official title of the Bishop was Bishop of Esna[10] (the old Latopolis), which lies some 55 km south of Luxor, and known to Westerners for its Temple of Khnum. The centre of the bishopric did not move to Luxor until 1919 as Esna lost its Coptic and administrative importance. By the 20th century many Copts from Esna had moved to Sudan as tradesmen, and Aswan replaced Esna as administrative centre, while Luxor grew in importance as it became tourist destination.[11]When Amelia Edwards visited Luxor in 1874, Bishop Mattawus residence was at Esna but he visited Luxor as part of his diocese (bishopric), which extended, as he told Amelia Edwards, from “Assûan [Aswan] on the south to Keneh [Qena] on the north”.[12]

Amelia Edwards does not give us, too, the name of the Coptic church which she visited, but we, again, know it was named after St. Anthony the Great. This was a new church built in 1865 by Bishop Mattawus’s predecessor, Bishop Mikha’il (c. 1851 – 1865). The permission to build the church was issued by the Wāli, Sa’id Pasha (1854 – 1863) in 1856,[13] but it was only in 1865, under the Wāli and Khedive, Isma’il Pasha (1863 – 1879), that it was actually built. Prior to that Copts worshiped in an old, dilapidated church, which Henry Tattam (1788 – 1868) visited in 1838 and which had in possession only four liturgical books, three in Coptic and one in Arabic.[14] Since then, and with the flood of European and American tourists, the interaction with the Franciscan and Presbyterian missions, and, above all, the awakening of the Coptic Church during the patriarchates of Abba Peter VII (1810 – 1852) and Abba Cyril IV (1854 – 1861), the Coptic Church had moved a long way. Unfortunately, the Church of St. Anthony, “a large building at the northern extremity of the village” and “constructed of sun-dried brick” had been built on the Avenue of Sphinxes (tareeq al-kibash, as in Coptic sources)[15] north of the Luxor Temple.[16] It was, therefore, demolished in November 1962, and another church, carrying, too, the name of St. Anthony, was built elsewhere.[17] We are lucky that we have Amelia Edwards’ account of this old Church of St. Anthony, not just her lively description of the intriguing Coptic service and baptism of “four wee, crumpled, brown mites of babies”; the curiosity that her entrance, with her friends, to the church brought about, with “[e]very face turned upon us when we came in”; but also because of her description of the interior of this now non-existent church, which to my knowledge is the only available description of the church in literature. But let us allow Amelia Edwards to talk of her visit to the Church of St. Anthony in Luxor:

While at Luxor, we went one Sunday morning to the Coptic church – a large building at the northern extremity of the village. Church, schools, and Bishop’s house, are here grouped under one roof and enclosed in a courtyard; for Luxor is the centre of one of the twelve sees into which Coptic Egypt is divided.

The church, which has been rebuilt of late years, is constructed of sun-dried brick, having a small apse towards the east, and at the lower or western end a screened atrium for the women. The centre aisle is perhaps thirty feet in width; the side-aisles, if aisles they can be called, being thickly planted with stone pillars supporting round arches. These pillars came from Karnak, and were the gift of the Khedive. They have lotus-bud capitals, and measure about fifteen feet high in the shaft. At the upper end of the nave, some eighteen or twenty feet in advance of the apse, there stands a very beautiful screen inlaid in the old Coptic style with cedar, ebony, rosewood, ivory, and mother-of-pearl. This screen is the pride of the church. Through the opening in the centre, one looks straight into the little waggon-roofed apse, which contains a small table and a suspended lamp, and is as dark as the sanctuary of an Egyptian temple. The reading-desk, like a rickety office stool, faces the congregation; and just inside the screen stands the Bishop’s chair. Upon this plan, which closely resembles the plan of the first cathedral of St. Peter at Rome, most Coptic churches are built. They vary chiefly in the number of apses, some having as many as five. The atrium generally contains a large tank, called the Epiphany tank, into which, in memory of the baptism of our Lord, the men plunge at their festival of El Ghitâs.

Young Todroos, the son of the Prussian Consul, conducted us to the church. We went in at about eleven o’clock and witnessed the end of the service, which had then been going on since daybreak. The atrium was crowded with women and children, and the side-aisles with men of the poorer sort. A few groups of better dressed Copts were gathered near the screen listening to a black-robed deacon, who stood reading at the reading desk with a lighted taper in his left hand. A priest in a white vestment embroidered on the breast and hood with a red Maltese cross, was squatting on his heels at the entrance to the adytum. The Bishop, all in black with a black turban, sat with his back to the congregation.

Every face was turned upon us when we came in. The reader paused. The white-robed priest got up. Even the Bishop looked round. Presently a couple of acolytes, each carrying two cane-bottomed chairs, came bustling down the nave ; and, unceremoniously driving away all who were standing near, placed us in a row across the middle of the church This interruption over, the reading was resumed.

We now observed with some surprise that every word of the lessons as they were read in Coptic was translated, viva voce, into Arabic by a youth in a surplice, who stood against the screen facing the congregation. He had no book, but went on fluently enough, following close upon the voice of the reader. This, we were told, was done only during the reading of the lessons, the Gospel, and the Lord’s Prayer. The rest of the service is performed without translation; and, the Coptic being a dead language,[18] is consequently unintelligible to the people.

When the reading of the Gospel was over, the deacon retired. The priest then came forward and made a sign to the school children, who ran up noisily from all parts of the church, and joined with the choristers in a wild kind of chant. It seemed to us that this chant concluded the first part of the service.

The second part closely resembled the celebration of mass. The priest came to the door of the screen; looked at the congregation; folded his hands palm to palm; went up to the threshold of the apse, and began reciting what sounded like a litany. He then uncovered the sacred vessels, which till now had been concealed under two blue cotton handkerchiefs, and, turning, shook the handkerchiefs towards the people. He then consecrated the wine and wafer; elevated the host; and himself partook of the Eucharist in both elements. A little bell was rung during the consecration and again at the elevation. The people, meanwhile, stood very reverently, with their heads bent; but no one knelt during any part of the service. After this, the officiating priest washed his hands in a brass basin; and the deacon – who was also the schoolmaster – came round the church holding up his scarf, which was heaped full of little cakes of unleavened bread. These he distributed to all present. An acolyte followed with a plate, and collected the offerings of the congregation.

We now thought the service was over; but there remained four wee, crumpled, brown mites of babies to be christened. These small Copts were carried up the church by four acolytes, followed by four anxious fathers. The priest then muttered a short prayer; crossed the babies with water from the basin in which he had washed his hands; drank the water; wiped the basin out with a piece of bread; ate the bread; and dismissed the little newly-made Christians with a hasty blessing.

Finally, the Bishop – who had taken no part in the service, nor even partaken of the Eucharist – came down from his chair, and stood before the altar to bless the congregation. Hereupon all the men and boys ranged themselves in single file and trooped through between the screen and the apse, crowding in at one side and out at the other; each being touched by the Bishop on his cheek, as he went by. If they lagged, the Bishop clapped his hands impatiently, and the schoolmaster drove them through faster. When there were no more to come (the women and little girls, be it observed, coming in for no share of this benediction), the priest took off his vestments and laid them in a heap on the altar; the deacon distributed a basketful of blessed cakes among the poor of the congregation; and the Bishop walked down the nave, eating a cake and giving a bit here and there to the best dressed Copts as he went along. So ended this interesting and curious service, which I have described thus minutely for the reason that it represents, with probably but little change, the earliest ceremonial of Christian worship in Egypt.

Before leaving, we asked permission to look at the books from which the service had been read. They were all very old and dilapidated. The New Testament, however, was in better condition than the rest, and was beautifully written upon vellum, in red and black ink. The Coptic, of course, looks like Greek to the eyes of the uninitiated; but some of the illuminated capitals struck us as bearing a marked resemblance to certain of the more familiar hieroglyphic characters.[19]

After the Sunday and baptismal services, and while Amelia, and her friends, including an American honeymoon couple, the bridegroom she calls Idle Man,[20] were examining the church’s books, Bishop Mattawus invited the delegation to his residence, where he showered them with the usual hospitality. Amelia Edwards describes the handsome Bishop and his residence, with its very large, sashless windows that looked over to Karnak, and through which sparrows flew in and out as they listed; and then she gives us details of a discussion with the Bishop of extreme interest on the Coptic language, its origin and its status at the time:

While we were examining the books, the Bishop sent his servant to invite us to pay him a visit. We accordingly followed the man up an outer flight of wooden steps at one corner of the courtyard, and were shown into a large room built partly over the church. Here we found the Bishop – handsome, plump, dignified, with soft brown eyes, and a slightly grizzled beard – seated cross-legged on a divan, and smoking his chibouque. On a table in the middle of the room stood two or three blue and white bottles of Oriental porcelain. The windows, which were sashless and very large, looked over to Karnak. The sparrows flew in and out as they listed.

The Bishop received us very amiably, and the proceedings opened as usual with pipes and coffee. The conversation which followed consisted chiefly of questions on our part, and of answers on his. We asked the extent of his diocese, and learned that it reached from Assûan on the south to Keneh on the north. The revenue of the see, he said, was wholly derived from endowments in land. He estimated the number of Copts in Luxor at 2000, being two-thirds of the entire population. The church was built and decorated in the time of his predecessor. He had himself been Bishop here for rather more than four years. We then spoke of the service we had just witnessed, and of the books we had seen. I showed him my prayer-book, which he examined with much curiosity. I explained the differences indicated by the black and the rubricated matter, and pointed out the parts that were sung. He was, however, more interested in the outside than in the contents, and tapped the binding once or twice, to see if it were leather or wood. As for the gilt corners and clasp, he undoubtedly took them for solid gold.

The conversation next turned upon Coptic; the Idle Man asking him if he believed it to be the tongue actually spoken by the ancient Egyptians.

To this he replied: –

“Yes, undoubtedly. What else should it be?”

The Idle Man hereupon suggested that it seemed to him, from what he had just seen of the church books, as if it might be a corrupt form of Byzantine Greek.

The Bishop shook his head.

“The Coptic is a distinct language,” he said. “Eight Greek letters were added to the Coptic alphabet upon the introduction of Christianity into Egypt; and since that time many Greek words have been imported into the Coptic vocabulary; but the main body of the tongue is Coptic, purely; and it has no radical affinity whatever with the Greek.”

This was the longest speech we heard him make, and he delivered it with some emphasis.

I then asked him if the Coptic was in all respects a dead language; to which he replied that many Coptic words, such as the names of the months and of certain festivals, were still in daily use. This, however, was not quite what I meant; so I put the question in another form, and asked if he thought any fragments of the tongue yet survived among the peasantry.

He pondered a moment before replying.

“That,” he said, “is a question to which it is difficult to give a precise answer, but I think you might yet find, in some of the remoter villages, an old man here and there who would understand it a little.”

I thought this a very interesting reply to a very interesting question.

After sitting about half an hour we rose and took leave. The Bishop shook hands with us all round, and, but that we protested against it, would have accompanied us to the head of the stairs.[21]

The Idle Man wondered if Coptic was the tongue actually spoken by the ancient Egyptians and if it wasn’t a corrupt form of Byzantine Greek. Bishop Mattawus’ response to that was emphatic: Coptic is undoubtedly the tongue actually spoken by the ancient Egyptians – it was a distinct language, and beyond borrowing of some Greek alphabetical letters[22] and words, the “main body of the tongue is Coptic, purely; and it has no radical affinity whatever with the Greek.”

Amelia Edwards then asks the hugely interesting question, which is still being debated: Is Coptic a dead language? Bishop Mattawus gives two answers: first he tells Amelia that Coptic still exists in the colloquial Arabic spoken in Egypt, and in this sense it hasn’t died. This rightly did not satisfy Amelia Edwards, and so she puts the question in another form: Have fragments of the tongue survived among the peasantry? Admitting the difficulty in giving a precise answer for such a question, Bishop Mattawus answers, “I think you might yet find, in some of the remoter villages, an old man here and there who would understand it a little.”

Many may think the Bishop’s suggestion was farfetched. There is, however, evidence that Coptic was still spoken by some Copts at the time, and that the Bishop was actually telling the truth, an giving an accurate account of the condition of Coptic in 1874:

-          When Robert Curzon (1810 – 1873), the English traveller and writer, visited Thebes (Luxor) sometime between 1833 and 1837, he met a Coptic carpenter, whom he does not name, “[A] man of no small natural genius and talent, who in any other country would have risen above the sphere of his comrades if any opportunity of distinguishing himself had offered. He could read and write coptic and arabic; he had some knowledge of astronomy, and some said of magic also; and he was a very tolerable carpenter, although the only tools which he was able to procure were of the roughest sort.”[23]

-          In 1838, Henry Tattam (1788 – 1868), the Church of England clergyman and Coptic scholar, visited Esna, which was part of the diocese to which Luxor belonged; and he found the Coptic school children speaking Coptic and Arabic, and that they shifted from speaking one to the other according to circumstances.[24]

-          The eminent American Coptologist, William Hoyt Worrell (1879 – 1952), has written about the popular traditions of Coptic in Zenya-North (Az Zayniyyah Bahari), a district in Luxor, where many individual Copts, and families, spoke Coptic fluently in the 19th and early 20th centuries.[25]

It is evident that Coptic was not dead by the time Amelia Edwards visited Bishop Mattawus in Luxor; and he must have known about those individuals and families in his diocese who spoke Coptic. It is a shame that Amelia Edwards did not enquire more about this subject as I believe she could have left us a valuable insight into the survival of Coptic into the 19th century.

Amelia Edwards was fascinated by the Copts, those “undoubted descendants of the [Ancient] Egyptian people” and their language. She advises all travellers to make sure that they attend a Coptic Church service, “[f]or a Coptic church is now the only place in which one may hear the last utterances of that far-off race with whose pursuits and pleasures the tomb-paintings make us so familiar”:

No traveller in Egypt should, I think, omit being present at a service in a Coptic church. For a Coptic church is now the only place in which one may hear the last utterances of that far-off race with whose pursuits and pleasures the tomb-paintings make us so familiar. We know that great changes have come over the language since it was spoken by Rameses the Great and written by Pentaur. We know that the Coptic of to-day bears to the Egyptian of the Pharaohs some such resemblance, perhaps, as the English of Macaulay bears to the English of Chaucer. Yet it is at bottom the tongue of old Egypt, and it is something to hear the last lingering echoes of that ancient speech read by the undoubted descendants of the Egyptian people.[26]

And then Amelia Edwards gives a prediction:

In another fifty years or so, the Coptic will in all probability be superseded by the Arabic in the services of this Church; and then the very tradition of its pronunciation will be lost. The Copts themselves, it is said, are fast going over to the dominant faith. Perhaps by the time our own descendants are counting the two thousandth anniversary of the Christian era, both Copts and Coptic will be extinct in Egypt.[27]

With the increased Arabisation of Egypt, particularly after Nasser’s 23 July 1952 Revolution, many churches across the country started using Arabic in most of the liturgy. It seems that eventually the worst fears expressed in the Apocalypse of Pseudo- Samuel of Qalamûn have been realised: “Woe upon woe!! What shall I say, my children, about those times and about the sloth that will overtake the Christians? At that time they will move away from uprightness and start to assimilate themselves to the hijra in their actions. … Many at that time will indeed dare to speak the language of the hijra [Arabic] at the altar. Woe upon woe on them!!”[28]  The process of Arabisation of church services is not new – it started with Patriarch Gabriel II (1131 – 1145). Happily, it is not complete: up to this day, there are churches that refuse to use Arabic in their services, such as the Church of the Virgin Mary at the Monastery of al-Muharraq, Asyut. Furthermore, Coptic is experiencing a real revival effort, as many Copts, across the world, show renewed interest and zeal in learning their language. But perhaps we should celebrate most the fact that we have passed the second millennium of our Christian era, and we are still here: Amelia Edwards’ prophesy that “Copts and Coptic will be extinct in Egypt” has, fortunately, proven false. In my opinion, many underestimate the strength of the resilience of the Coptic nation, despite the adverse circumstances all around it.

How did Amelia Edwards find her encounter with the Copts and their Coptic religious leaders? Ever since Edward William Lane, who show interest in meeting Copts, published his An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, with its biased and inaccurate account on the Copts, many Westerners copied him ad verbum, thus spreading his morbid prejudice and causing quite a lot of damage to the reputation of the Copts – Copts were represented as bigots and evil: “One of the most remarkable traits in the character of the Copts is their bigotry. They bear a bitter hatred to all other Christians, even exceeding that with which the Muslims regard the unbelievers in El-Islam. … They are, generally speaking of a sullen temper, extremely avaricious, and abominable dissemblers; cringing or domineering according to circumstances. … [They are] generally ignorant, deceitful, faithless, and abandoned to the pursuit of worldly gain, and to indulgence in sensual pleasures.”[29]Amelia Edwards, however, will have none of this. She had first-hand experience with them, and she would not buy Lane’s pernicious prejudice:

This interview was altogether very pleasant. The Copts are said to be sullen in manner, and so bigoted that even a Moslem is less an object of dislike to them than a Christian of any other denomination. However this may be, we saw nothing of it. We experienced, on the contrary, many acts of civility from the Copts with whom we were brought into communication.[30]

And with Amelia Edwards’ verdict on the Copts, we end this article.

Figure 3: Early Christian shrine, Philae (by Amelia Edwards).[31]

Figure 4: Ruined convent (Coptic) near Philae (by Amelia Edwards).[32]


[1] Quentin Crewe in his Introduction of A Thousand Miles Up the Nile by Amelia B. Edwards (London, Century Publishing, 1982).

[2] A Thousand Miles Up the Nile by Amelia B. Edwards (London, Century Publishing, 1982); footnote 1; pp. 461-462.

[3] Ibid.; p. 137.

[4] Ibid.; p. 144.

[5] The British, American, and French Consuls at Luxor were Arabs; while the Austrian Consul was American. Ibid.; p. 451.

[6] Ibid.; p. 459.

[7] Amelia Edwards paint a comic picture of the Coptic postmaster – he was “an ungainly youth in a European suit so many sizes too small that his arms and legs appeared to be sprouting out at the ends of his garments” – but she found him, in addition of being very polite, profuse in his offers of service, and with perfect punctuality. Ibid.; pp. 144-145.

[8] Ibid.; p. 144.

[9] History of Christianity and Monasticism, and their Heritage in the Dioceses of Naqada, Qus, Esna, Luxor, and Erment by Nabih Kamel Da’oud and Adel Fakhri (in Arabic) (Cairo, St. Mark’s Institute for Coptic History Studies, 2008); pp. 267-8. The book says that Anba Mattawus stayed bishop for seven years but isn’t sure of the start and end of his bishopric; so he gives two possible periods: 1866 – 1873 or 1869 – 1876. Although Amelia Edwards does not give his name, he tells her (p. 462) that he has been bishop for rather more than four years; and since they met in early 1874, this makes the beginning of his bishopric 1869.

[10] History of Christianity and Monasticism; p. 267.

[11] Ibid.; p. 297.

[12] A Thousand Miles Up the Nile; p. 462.

[13] After the Crimean War, and a considerable pressure on the Ottoman Empire, the Hamayouni Decree was issued in February 1956 by Sultan Abdülmecid I (1839 – 1861), which stipulated the equal treatment of non-Muslims. Said Pasha permitted , at the same time, the building of a church at Qena (see: History of Christianity and Monasticism; p. 261.

[14] History of Christianity and Monasticism; p. 257

[15]tareeq al kibash” means “the avenue of the rams”, since the heads of the sphinxes are those of rams.

[16] History of Christianity and Monasticism; p. 264. It was at Shar’a Abul Houl and close to Shari’a Andraws Pasha.

[17] History of Christianity and Monasticism; pp. 311-312. The new church lies east of Luxor Railway, at Shar’a Wardi. In 1910, a second Coptic Church (Virgin Mary) was built, and in 1973 a third church was added (Church of Archangel Michael). History of Christianity and Monasticism; pp. 294 and 314.

[18] Bishop Mattawus, and many other Copts, would disagree with this assessment.

[19] A Thousand Miles Up the Nile; pp. 459-462.

[20] “The bridegroom is what the world chooses to call an idle man; that is to say, he has scholarship, delicate health, and leisure.” She met him, and his newly-wed wife, whom she calls the “Little Lady”, on Christmas Day 1873, on the way from Minieh (Minya) to Siût (Asyut). See: A Thousand Miles Up the Nile; p. 88.

[21] A Thousand Miles Up the Nile; pp. 462-464.

[22] In the text, Bishop Mattawus is made to say only eight letters had been borrowed from Greek. As the reader knows, this is incorrect: Copts borrowed 24 letters from Greek and retained only 6 or 7 from Demotic (6 in Sahidic, 7 in Bohairic and Akhmimic).  I tend to think Amelia Edwards, who wasn’t a Coptologist, confused what the Bishop had to say.

[23] Visits to Monasteries in the Levant by Robert Curzon (London, John Murray, 1849); p. 118. The carpenter Curzon spoke of was most probably from the family of Isaacids, which sprung from a certain Isaac, who more than three hundred years ago moved from Asyut to the area of Luxor, and he was known to have introduced Coptic to Luxor. They were carpenters. Review reference in n. 23, below.

[24] I could not find the original text which was part of Journal of a Tour of Henry Tattam and Miss Platt through Egypt, the Penninsula of Sinai, and the Holy Land in 1838, 1839, by Miss Platt (London, Watts, 1841 – 1842). The text was translated into Arabic by the Coptic historian, Iris Habib Elmasry (1910–1994), in her قصة الكنيسة القبطيه ; volume 8 (Cairo, Al-Mahaba Bookshop, no date); p. 126.

[25] Worrell, William H & Vycichl, Wener (1942). Popular traditions of the Coptic language. In: Coptic texts in the University of Michigan collection. Ed: William H Worrell. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1942: pp. 297-342.

[26] A Thousand Miles Up the Nile; pp. 464-465.

[27] Ibid; p. 465.

[28] See A. Papaconstantinou: ‘They Shall Speak the Arabic Language and Take Pride in it’: Reconsidering the Fate of Coptic after the Arab Conquest. Le Muséon 120 (3-4), 2007, pp. 273-299.

[29] Edward William Lane: An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, written in Egypt during the years 1833, -34, and -35; Charles Knight & Co.; London; 1936; Volume II, pp. 334-335. On the prejudice of Lane when it came to Copts, read: Dioscorus Boles (15 April 2011), EDWARD WILLIAM LANE AND HIS RESPONSIBILITY FOR DEMONISING THE COPTS, AND MISGUIDING THE BRITISH ABOUT THE COPTS, http://copticliterature.wordpress.com/2011/04/15/edward-william-lane-and-his-responsibility-for-demonising-the-copts-and-misguiding-the-british-about-the-copts/

[30] A Thousand Miles Up the Nile; p. 464.

[31] Ibid.; p. 218.

[32] Ibid.; 383.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 30, 2012 6:09 am

    I’m optimistic about the survival of Coptic. The Copts are heirs both to the Ancient Pharonic as well as the Hellenistic Egyptian worlds, and both of these are so important for our understanding of the pre-Modern Medeterranean. As long as interest in Ancient Egypt and the Hellenistic world remains, Coptic has a chance. Also, while comparisons are unfair, Coptic is doing much better than Syriac and Ge’ez. If Hebrew could make such a comeback after a long hiatus where it was not anyone’s daily language, surely Coptic can also. Coptic and the Egyptian heritage it represents continues to fascinate people who are not even of Coptic/Egyptian descent/religion. I’m of Chinese descent, from Singapore, and love it :D

    • Dioscorus Boles permalink
      July 30, 2012 6:59 am

      Thank you, Edward, for this comment. Delighted to know that you are interested in Coptic, and that you have encouraging words about it.

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