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July 15, 2012

Figure 1: Shenoute (or Shenouda) of Atripe (348 – 465 AD) [credit to Yale Egyptological Institute in Egypt – adapted from a Paris manuscript].

I put up this Coptic manuscript representation of Archimandrite Shenoute of Atripe, head of the monastic confederation in the Akhmim-Sohag region from A.D. 385 to 465. This is not the time to talk about this gigantic Coptic figure, or defend him against his critics, but I want to use this painting solely as pictorial evidence that the religious habit of Coptic monks in the past differed from what we know now.

Saint Shenoute’s habit, unlike the current habit worn by Coptic monks (and priests), which I trust the reader is familiar with, is characterised by its colour and décor. Whether this was the habit he only wore when he was officiating at liturgy is not clear; but, whatever it may be, the attire is different from the current one, and strikingly so.

Of course the date of the Paris manuscript is important. The Yale Egyptological Institute in Egypt does not give in its website detail of the manuscript from which it has taken St. Shenoute’s picture; however, I understand that the manuscript is in Coptic language, and so it most probably dates to late antiquity or early Islamic period in Egypt.

The beautiful manuscript painting may tell us more than a simple variation in the religious habit of our past ascetics and saints – it tells us in fact, and in a more important way, that our life, as Copts, was richer and more colourful before Islam occupied our country in 641 AD (and that we did not find it necessarily injurious to asceticism); it tells us further that the gloomy colours of plain black and grey were forced on us through persecution by the Muslims who were keen to degrade us (and adopted by us as a matter of humility when we could not change it).

How to cite this article: Dioscorus Boles (15 July 2012), ARCHMADRITE SHENOUTE AND HIS COLOURFUL RELIGIOUS HABIT,

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 26, 2016 8:17 pm

    Which century is the manuscript painting from? Is this immediately after St. Shenoute’s departure?

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