The Coptic Museum occupies an area of 8000 m2, buildings and garden included. Ever since the founder initiated the project, the Coptic community has been active in filling it with precious and rare pieces. Members of the community have sent icons, cloths, manuscripts, priestly garments, frescoes, and wooden panels. Painted wooden ceilings and marble fountains were collected from old Coptic palaces.
Photo: The Coptic Museum, in the centre of the depiction is the Virgin Mary riding on a white horse. Jesus is seated on St. Joseph’s right shoulder. In the background, a town with white houses refers to Egypt, the place of refuge. The sojourn of the Holy Family into Egypt plays an important role in the Coptic Church and is annually celebrated on the 1st of June.
Photo: The Coptic Museum, dated to the 6th or 7th century, the external rim of this famous niche features a slightly protruding frame and two adjoining colonettes with simplified capitals. In the upper section Christ is enthroned in a mandorla (enclosed in an oval) carried on wheels with flames thrashing at its base. At the sides of the mandorla are the heads of the four creatures of the apocalypse that are also associated with the four evangelists: the eagle (St. John), ox (St. Luke), lion (St. Marc), and man (St. Matthew). The archangel Michael stands on the left while, Gabriel on the right. In the lower section the enthroned Holy Virgin, holding the infant Jesus, is flanked by the twelve apostles and two local saints.
Photo: The Coptic Museum, the Copts were famous for their outstanding weaving skills and exported their products to other Mediterranean countries. The textiles were mainly made of plain linen in which the entire surface was decorated with dyed woolen threads. This technique is called tapestry. In this tapestry, a winged erote is holding a garland. The lower right corner of this tapestry is decorated with leaves and bunches of grapes. Black was used for the outlines of the figures and different shades of the same color from blue to grey along with different reds give this piece a special optical effect. Such tapestry hangings furnished the houses of wealthy Copts and were either hung on walls or used as curtains.
Photo: The Coptic Museum, this exceptional lintel depicts two scenes from the New Testament: The entry of Jesus, as a king, into Jerusalem and the Ascension. In the first scene (on the left) Jesus is entering the city on a donkey. There are three figures opposite of him: one is spreading his cloak before Christ. Another is praising Jesus by waving with a palm-branch and the dancing daughter of Zion (John 12:15) turns her head back to the second scene. Jesus is enthroned in a Mandorla supported by angels in full flight and two animals associated with the evangelists, the ox (Luke) and lion (Mark). Jesus is flanked by Virgin Mary (next to him on the left side) and the apostles. Above these two scenes a hymn in four Greek lines is praising Jesus.
Photo: The Coptic Museum, tombstones from the early years of Christianity are often decorated with an architectural structure symbolizing the house of God. Various Christian symbols fill the lower part of this gravestone. In the centre is Christ’s monogram, comprising the two Greek letters “Chi” and “Rho”. This monogram is the most common symbol of Jesus along with the cross and fish. Here it is flanked by looped crosses (crux ansata), formerly the Egyptian Hieroglyph “Ankh” (the key of life), and the first and last letter of the Greek alphabet “Alpha” and “Omega”, evoking eternity. All of these Christian signs are framed by fluted columns. Two leaves and a Greek inscription are set inside the pediment. The inscription gives the deceased’s name, the date of his death and expresses the wish that he may “rest in peace”.
Photo: The Coptic Museum, this gravestone is carved with a looped cross, formerly the Egyptian “Ankh” (the Pharaonic key of life). It is decorated with a wreath-like pattern and flanked by Greek crosses. Another Greek cross is set inside the loop which is surrounded by a palm branch, which symbolises victory.
Photo: The Coptic Museum, in 1945 a farmer discovered 13 codices (books) near the town of Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt. They were sealed in a large terracotta jar and wrapped in leather bindings. These invaluable documents are written in Coptic and serve as the primary source of gnosticism, a religious movement in the early years of Christianity. The Gnostics (gnosis meaning “knowledge” in Greek) believed that divine experience could be achieved directly without a mediator like Jesus Christ who was needed to gain knowledge of the divine truth. Gnosticism was hindered by the official church from spreading its “heretical” ideas. The Nag Hammadi Library provides interesting information on religion, the Coptic language, philosophy and bookbinding techniques. The left page of the papyrus bears the end of the apocryphon (“secret teachings”) of John and the beginning of the gospel of Thomas. The right page of the papyrus is an excerpt from “On the Origin of the World”. The originals of the Nag Hammadi Library are kept in the manuscript archive at the Coptic Museum in Old Cairo.
Photo: The Coptic Museum, ostraca are fragmentary pieces of pottery, stone or bone bearing inscriptions or a design. This ostracon shows part of a running horse, its body decorated with motifs and a Coptic word. This limestone ostracon with Coptic script is a letter from Phrangas to the pious priest Peter, asking for news of Peter’s health.