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July 13, 2012


Interesting woodcut by a Flemish artist titled Aegyptius Sacerdos, and published in Omnium fere gentium nostraeque aetatis nationum reveals a change in Coptic headgear around 1572 AD, which confirms a Coptic historical text.


When the Copts wore berretto برانيط



Jacobi Sluperii (Jacobus Sluperius)[i] was a Flemish scholar and poet from the Netherlands who lived in the sixteenth century (1532 – 1602 AD). It appears that his father (who also carries the same name) was killed by the Calvinists, and Jacobi himself was later persecuted by them. He was ordained priest in 1560 at a church in the parish of Beusichem, town in the Dutch province of Gelderland. He wrote Latin poetry and produced many literary works, including Omnium fere gentium nostraeque aetatis nationum, habitus et effigies, et in eosdem epigrammata (Almost all the nations of our age; their conditions and images; and described in poems).[ii] [iii] This book, which has recently been digitalised by MDZ,[iv] was published originally in 1572 in Antwerp.

The book contains 135 woodcuts of various men and women of different nationalities, including a Cyclops[v] and a Sea Bishop[vi]! It appears that the woodcuts were made by a Flemish artist, Antonius Bosch, called Sylvius. For each woodcut we find an attached Latin poem by Jacobus Sluperius and a French poem by François Descerpz.[vii]

The first nation that the book enlists is the Egyptian; and it includes four images: Aegyptius/L’Egyptien (Egyptian);[viii] Aegyptia Mulier/L’Egyptienne (Egyptian woman);[ix]   Aegyptius Heremita/L’Hermite d’Egypte (Egyptian hermit);[x] and Aegyptius Sacerdos/Le Prestre d’Egypte (Egyptian priest).[xi] [xii]

I will reproduce below the Coptic woodcuts.[xiii] The Latin and French verses attached to each are also interesting; however, as I don’t find myself courageous enough to try to translate them into English, I will omit reproducing them here.[xiv]


Figure 1: Aegyptius Heremita/L’Hermite d’Egypte (Egyptian Hermit) in Omnium fere gentium nostraeque aetatis nationum (woodcut no. 19).

Figure 2: Aegyptius Sacerdos/Le Prestre d’Egypte (Egyptian Priest) in Omnium fere gentium nostraeque aetatis nationum (woodcut no. 20).

Another version of the Egyptian priest’s woodcut shows his costume better:[xv]

Figure 3: Another version (coloured) of Aegyptius Sacerdos/Le Prestre d’Egypte published under the title Coptic Priest by The Granger Collection, NYC.[xvi]


It is not clear if Jacobus Sluperius or the artist Antonius Bosch who made the woodcuts had ever visited Egypt. They perhaps relied on descriptions, or drawings, by other Europeans who travelled to Egypt during that period. While the costume of the Coptic hermit could be anything, since hermits usually do not conform to the habit of monks who form part of a monastery, the costume of the Coptic priest may raise some questions, particular with the fanciful hat “Ce long chapeau”, which we don’t seem to recognise as the simple black, round skull cap of the Coptic clergy, which appears to have been in use for at least since the early nineteenth century until now.[xvii]

Figure 4: Turban (cap) of a Coptic priest by Edward William Lane in the 1820s and 1830s.[xviii]

The Egyptian priest in Omnium fere gentium nostraeque aetatis nationum is standing and holding in his left hand what appears to be a box, possibly containing writing tools. His costume, including his cap, is black in colour. It is his long hat which may make some discard the artistic work as inaccurate and of imaginary nature. There is, however, some evidence that the artist may be attentive to detail and reflecting in his piece of art social changes in the Coptic community of the time – changes in their attire that affected even the clergy. Egypt at the time of the publication of the book in 1572 AD was ruled by the Ottomans. It was long since the Coptic community had been reduced to a sorry state of its previous glory by repeated persecutions at the hands of the Mamelukes and Turks, which naturally led the Coptic Church and lay leaders to seek a reunion with the Catholics of Europe to strengthen their position and give them some protection.[xix] When Sultan Selim I conquered Egypt in 1517 AD, the Coptic Church was headed by Patriarch John XIII (1484 – 1524). Even before that, and when the Burgi Mamelukes were still in power (1384 – 1517), some efforts of reuniting the Coptic Church and the Roman Church appeared in the days of Patriarchs John XI (1427 – 1452),[xx] and John XII (1479 – 1482).[xxi] It appears that Patriarch XIII was not able to continue the negotiations with Rome for a reunion; however, Patriarch Gabriel VII (1525 – 1568) re-opened the negotiations, and in 1560 Pope Pius IV (1559 – 1565) sent a delegation to Egypt for that sake. This serious trial unfortunately failed as the two parties had a different vision for the union in mind. Nevertheless, two other attempts were made in 1582 and 1597, during the patriarchates of John XIV (1570 – 1585) and Gabriel VIII (1586 – 1601), respectively, but again they failed.[xxii] Whatever the case was, it is clear that there was a strong contact between the Copts and the Europeans during that time. This was made possible by the Franco-Ottoman Alliance in 1536 between Francis I and Suleiman the Magnificent, which resulted in agreements to exchange embassies, trade, etc., all called the “Capitulations of the Ottoman Empire”. Francis I obviously wanted to get the Turks’ help in his fight against the Habsburg Empire, but he introduced the agreement to his subjects under the pretext of protecting the Christians of the Ottoman Empire.  This alliance between France and Turkey, which continued for more than two centuries, had enormous socio-political outcomes on the Copts, a matter that is still poorly studied by researchers. One of the effects, I believe, was a change in the dress code of the Copts, at least for short periods. Tarikh al-aba’ al-batarika, of which first part was written by Anba Yusab, Bishop of Fuwwah, tells us that in the days of Patriarch John XIV (1570 – 1585), the Copts wore black baraneet “وفي زمان هذا الأب لبس النصارى البرانيط السوداء”.[xxiii] The Arabic word برانيط (baraneet) is the plural form of برنيطة (buranaita) – the word being derived from the Italian berretto. This would have been something like what our Egyptian priest in Omnium fere gentium nostraeque aetatis nationum is wearing; and it looks western. One must remember that Sluperius’s book was published in 1572, when, as already stated, the contact between the Copts and the Europeans were somewhat intense. I must say, I read that entry in Tarikh al-aba’ al-batarika a few times, and each time I found myself mystified. Now it reads clear to me. We have now independent, pictorial evidence to confirm the historical accuracy of that entry. The text in Tarikh al-aba’ al-batarika, on its part, serves to prove the precision of the Flemish artist, Antonius Bosch, in depicting the Coptic priest, with his fantastic costume, in his woodcut, Aegyptius Sacerdos/Le Prestre d’Egypte.


[i] Jacobus Sluperius’s name is written in so many variant forms, including: De Slupere, Jacques; Sluper, Jacobus; Sluper, Jacques; Slupere, Jacques de; Sluperius Herzelensis, Ioannes; Sluperius, Ioannes; Sluperius, Jakob; Sluperius, Joannes; Sluperius, Johannes; Slupper, Jacob; Sluperii, Joannis; Sluperji, Jean.

[ii] Omnium fere Gentium, nostraeque aectatis Nationum, habitus et effigies. In eosdem Joannis Sluperii Epigrammata. Adjecta ad singulas Icones Gallica Tetrastiche. Antv. 1572.12o.

[iii] The reader can review a short biography of Sluperius at: (in Dutch).

[iv] Willkommen im Münchener Digitalisierungszentrum (MDZ) is the Munich Digitization Centre. It digitalised our book on 3 October 2008. You can find the whole book at:

[v] See it here:[image]=70&set[zoom]=default&set[debug]=0&set[double]=1&set[mets]

[vi] See it here:[image]=78&set[zoom]=default&set[debug]=0&set[double]=1&set[mets]

[vii] For the identification of the woodcuts’ artist and the poet who wrote the French verses, see: The voyages & discoveries of early travellers and missionaries by Maggs Bros; Part I, America (London, 1921); p. 24. I must say, I could not find more about these two individuals. Perhaps one of my readers will help us here.

[viii] Omnium fere gentium nostraeque aetatis nationum; woodcut 17.

[ix] Omnium fere gentium nostraeque aetatis nationum; woodcut 18.

[x] Omnium fere gentium nostraeque aetatis nationum; woodcut 19.

[xi] Omnium fere gentium nostraeque aetatis nationum; woodcut 20.

[xii] I find it interesting that the book does not use the adjective Copticus in Latin, and Copte in French to denote the Egyptian hermit and priest.

[xiii] It is interesting that the book does not use the adjective “Coptic” for hermit and priest.

[xiv] The reader who is interested in the poem Aegyptius Heremita/L’Hermite d’Egypte can find them at:[image]=19&set[zoom]=default&set[debug]=0&set[double]=1&set[mets] ; and he can find Aegyptius Sacerdos/Le Prestre d’Egypte at:[image]=21&set[zoom]=default&set[debug]=0&set[double]=1&set[mets]

[xv] Coptic priest, Egypt, 1572. Woodcut from ‘Omnium fere gentium’ by Jean Sluperji, Antwerp, 1572. Image No. 0080674. Credit: Rue des Archives/The Granger Collection, NYC.

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] See: Lane, Edward William. An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, Written in Egypt During the Years 1833, -34, and -35, Partly from Notes Made During a Former Visit to that Country in the Years 1825, -26, -27, and -28; Volume 2 (London, Charles Knight & Co., 1836); p. 315.

[xviii] Ibid.

[xix] This is a very interesting topic, and we shall return to it later.

[xx] In the days of Patriarch John XI (1427 – 1452), the Council of Basel-Ferrara-Florence was convened (1431– 45); and there were strong efforts to unite the Coptic Church with the Catholic Church. These efforts were preceded in 1429 by Ethiopia signing a defence agreement with Europe; and in 1442, Ethiopia also requested that it has a representative at the Council of Florence. See the Arabic translation of Jacques Tagher, Christians in Muslim Egypt, an historical study of the relations between Copts and Muslims from 640 to 1922, under the title: أقباط ومسلمون منذ الفتح العربي الي عام 1922 م (published by al-Akbat, Jersey City, 1984); pp. 197-199.

[xxi] History of the Patriarchs of the Egyptian Church Known as The History of the Holy Church by Sawirus ibn al-Mukaffa, Bishop of al-Ashmunin; Volume III; Part III; Cyril II – Cyril V (A.D. 1235-1894). Translated and annotated by Antoine Khater and O.H.E. Khs-Burmester (Cairo, Imprimerie de l’Institut Francais d’Archeologie Orientale, 1970); p. 274.

[xxii] Jacques Tagher, pp. 197-199.

[xxiii] Samu’il al-Suryani and Nabih Kamil, eds. Tarikh al-aba’ al-batarika li-Anba Yusab usquf Fuwwah (Cairo, Institute of Coptic Studies, 1987). For the origin of the word buranaita, see: Al-Munjid fil lugha wal a’alam (Beruit, 1986).

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