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THE BRILLIANCE OF THE COPTIC ART FROM BAWIT (MONASTERY OF SAINT APOLLO)

March 8, 2016

The colourful paintings, below, are from Le monastère et la nécropole de Baouit saison de fouilles avril-mai 1903 (The monastery and Necropolis of Bawit, excavated in the season April-May 1903), which was published by the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology in Cairo, in 1904; and was written and painted by Jean Clédat.

Jean Clédat (1871-1943) was a French Coptologist and Egyptologist. He worked in Egypt from 1900 to 1914 and was very active at many archaeological locations; but, perhaps, his greatest work was the excavation of the archaeological site, Bawit, which is located between Dayrut and Asyut, around 50 miles north of Asyut, and a mile inland in the desert. Bawit was a monastery established by Saint Apollo in the fourth-century and it had more than 500 monks, who mostly lived in scattered hermitages (Clédat calls them chapelles [chapels]) round its centre. It was based on the Pachomian type of Coptic monasticism – each day the monks gathered for a common prayer and meal, followed by a religious ceremony from St. Apollo. They then went each to his hermitage to practise asceticism. Bawit was a great cultural, agricultural and trade centre. Its excavations, which started in 1901 and continued until the 1980s, revealed a great wealth of invaluable Coptic art, which includes the oldest known Coptic icon of Christ and Abbot Mina (Panneau du Christ et de l’abbé Ména)[1].

The Monastery of Bawit (Saint Apollo) survived until it was destroyed by the Muslims in the 11th or 12th century. At the present the ruins cover ninety-nine acres; and it is estimated that only 5% of the archaeological site has been excavated. One hopes that the rest will be excavated in the near future, to add to the recent astonishing discoveries at the monasteries at the Red Sea, the Western Desert and Sohag. Many of the old findings of Bawit are kept at the Coptic Museum of Cairo and the Musée du Louvre in Paris.[2] The latter has a visual representation of the Monastery of Bawit, which you can watch here.

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Plate IV: Chapel XXX – North wall. The Baptism of Christ

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Plate VIIIa: Chapel XXXII: East wall – left niche

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Plate VIIIb: Chapel XXXII: North wall – Right niche

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Plate IXa: South wall – West niche

 

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Plate IXb: West wall – Left niche

 

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Plate Xa: Decoration of the outside arc of a niche

 

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Plate Xb: a bird, decorating a corner stone

 

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Plate XI: Chapel XXXII: Internal borders of the arches of the niches

 

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Plate XIII: Chapel XXXIV

 

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Plate XVII: Chapel XXXVII: West wall – Chasing a gazelle

 

 

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[1] Kept at the Musée du Louvre in Paris.

[2] See: Pierre du Bourguet, s.j.: Cledat, Jean in Coptic Encyclopedia, Volume 2; ed. Aziz Suryal Atiya (New York, 1991). See also: René-Georges Coquin and Maurice Martin, S.J, Bawit in Coptic Encyclopedia, Volume 2.

 

 

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