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A COPTIC WOMAN BY THE AMERICAN ARTIST SAMUEL MANNING (19th CENTURY)

August 10, 2015

Christian Manning (1822 – 1881) was an American Baptist cleric, traveller, and artist was famous for his pen and pencil drawings as he toured England, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Italy, Palestine, and Egypt. His visit to Egypt in 1871 resulted in the publications of his books: The land of the Pharaohs. Egypt and Sinai: illustrated by pen and pencil (London, 1975) and Egypt illustrated with pen and pencil (New York, c. 1891).

I write about him for two reasons, the first being my desire to share with my readers the drawing by Manning of a Coptic woman, whom he calls “Koptic woman”, and which I found in his second book. I post the beautiful drawing underneath:

Koptic woman2“Koptic woman” by Samuel Manning, 1871[1]

The second reason is to show a degree of prejudice and ignorance that some American clergy of the nineteenth century viewed the Copts. Manning found a few Christian inscriptions on the walls of the Temple at Philae: without much understanding or a bit of sympathy he harshly criticised the Copts. It is really painful to see some Christians bashing the Copts from a position of perceived superiority. But I herein reproduce what Manning had to say, and leave the reader to make up his mind:

Christian symbols at Philae1

Christian symbols at Philae2Christian symbols at Philae by Samuel Manning[2]

On the downfall of the Egyptian mythology, Philae became an important Christian colony. The monks who settled here, like those at Beni Hassan, defaced the symbols of the old faith and substituted for them those of Christianity. Some of these are very curious. We have not only the cross of the ordinary form with the familiar addition of the palm branch of victory, or inclosed within a circle of amaranth, symbolizing eternity, but we find strange combinations of unusual forms with fanciful additions, of which it is often difficult to discover the meaning. Thus the Jerusalem cross, as it is now called, appears with a semicircle on each of its arms, or with globes at each extremity and grouped round the centre. What looks at first like a mere arabesque or geometrical pattern resolves itself into a series of crosses, with that of St. Andrew in the centre, and triangles at each corner, as types of the Trinity. At this distance of time it is impossible to say how far these rude inscriptions were expressive of a true spiritual faith in the Divine verities thus symbolized. But from what we know of the character of the Egyptian monks, there is but too much reason to fear that they only represent a gross superstition scarcely more respectable than the heathenism they replaced. One great cause of the rapid spread of Mohammedanism in the seventh century was the idolatry and degraded superstition into which the Church had then fallen. And at the present day one main hindrance to the progress of Christianity amongst the Moslems is their deep-rooted belief that it is essentially idolatrous — a belief created and fostered by the creed and ritual of the Greek, Latin, and Coptic churches. Slowly this erroneous idea is being dispelled by the teaching of Protestant evangelists. But everywhere throughout the Mohammedan world, I have found that the worship of the crucifix, of Mary, and of the saints, has raised an almost insuperable prejudice against Christianity. Strange that a faith which teaches that “God is a spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth,” should, by the misrepresentations of its avowed adherents, have been exposed to such a charge.[3]

[1] Egypt illustrated, page 130.

[2] Ibid, page 135.

[3] Ibid, page 134

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