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January 12, 2018

Paris map.PNG

Section of Paris map showing areas in which Yuhanna Chiftich lived and officiated

Yuhanna Chiftichi is one of the most interesting and extraordinary persons in Coptic history. He was a Coptic priest, scholar, interpreter, director and fighter. He was born in Cairo sometime in the last quarter of the 18th century and died in France, most probably in Marseille, sometime after 1825. He first appeared in our history during the French Campaign in Egypt between 1798 and 1801 and fought with General Ya’aqub against the Turks and Mamelukes. After the French withdrawal, he left to France with them. There, he landed in Marseille and seems to have gone early to Paris where he lived until 1825. After that, he returned to Marseille where he most probably died there. In Paris, his knowledge erudition and knowledge of Coptic and Arabic made him indispensable to two main French projects that added to human civilisation: first, The Description of Egypt (Description de l’Ėgypte); and, second, the deciphering of Hieroglyphs by Jean-François Champollion in 1822. This is not the place to write a full biography of this special Copt; suffice it here to review the article on Yuhanna Chiftich by Anouar Louca in The Coptic Encyclopedia (1992), which the reader can access here.

Here, I would like to focus on the area in which Yuhanna lived in Paris. He lived in the 8th borough (arrandissement) of Paris known as Champs-Elysées and then the 1st borough (Louvre, Palais Royale); all north of the Seine River in the most historic and now elegant areas of Paris.

Chiftichi lodged first at the Rue de la Concorde, where the Needle of Rameses II now stands, and the Rue Royale. During that period he was working as priest officiating at the old Church of Saint Roch that is located at 284 Rue Saint-Honoré. Later, he moved to live in Rue Roche; and it seems that is where Champollion visited him to learn Coptic. Apparently, he continued to live there until he moved to Marseille in 1825.

These should be places that every Copt should go and tour upon visiting Paris.


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