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DOM RAPHAEL DE MONACHIS

December 31, 2019

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The Coronation of Napoleon, painting (10 by 6 metres) kept at the Louvre in Paris, by Jacques-Louis David, depicting the coronation of Napoleon I at Notre-Dame de Paris in 1803. David finished it in 1807. The zoomed in views show Dom Raphael de Monachis (with thick brown hair and beard and a red banded hood.

Dom Raphael de Monachis (1759 – 1831) was not a Copt, neither by race nor by congregation – although he was born in Cairo in Egypt, he was of Syrian origin and followed the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. However, his name is often linked with Coptic personalities, like General Ya’qub and Yohanna Cheftichi, who were famous during and around the French Campaign in Egypt (1798 – 1801), as he worked as Napoleon personal interpreter when he was in Egypt. He is also known by the following other names: Anton Zakhur, Antoun Zakhurah, al-Qass Rafa’il, and Rafa’l al-Qibti).

Raphael studied at the Greek seminary in Rome, and wore the monkish habit in Sidon, Lebanon, after he returned from Rome in 1789. In 1794, he returned to Egypt. A few years later, in 1798, his knowledge of western and Arabic languages made him the right choice to serve the French as interpreter. In 1800, General Ya’qub the Copt used his writing skills to compose a poem which was sent to France on the occasion of the death of General Desaix in Marengo. After the French withdrawal from Egypt, he travelled to France in 1801 where his knowledge in Arabic secured him a place as adjunct professor of Arabic language, with Silvestre de Sacy, at the Ècole des Langues Orientales. He also became a member of the French Institut d’Égypte.

While in Grenoble and later in Paris he taught Champollion both Arabic (in its Egyptian dialect) and Coptic. He introduced Champollion to the Coptic priest, Yohanna Cheftishi, who was influential in teaching Champollion Coptic.

He wrote a few unpublished books in Arabic while in France. One of them, Les Bédouins, ou Arabes du désert (The Bedouins, or Arabs of the desert) was translated in 1816 by a student of his, F.J. Mayeux, from the original manuscript. Another book of his is Marj al-azhar wa bustan al hawadith al Akhbar (The Hubbub of Al Azhar and the Garden of New Events).

After the fall of Bonaparte and the restoration of the Bourbon Monarchy, Raphael left France in 1816 to Egypt to serve Egypt’s new ruler Muhammad Ali Pasha as a translator. He died in Egypt in 1831.

 

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