Inscriptions of Piety and Coptic Saints in Old Cairo (Fustat)




Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



An artifact in the Keir Collection of Islamic Art, a double-sided folio with saintly drawings of haloed figures and inscriptions in Coptic and Arabic, is the subject of this paper. The artifact has not been researched before and except for the brief catalogue entry in the Keir Collection Catalogue, the author did not find any secondary scholarship on this artifact. It has been grouped within the label of “Fustat Fragments,” and has not been studied closely in relation to the drawings and the inscriptions, nor have the identities of the figures of the drawings been accurately determined. The informal quality of the line drawings and rough, hastily penned inscriptions raise interesting questions on the nature and purpose of this object. Through a close analysis of the visual, textual and the physical characteristics of the fragment, this paper attempts to answer some questions raised. The questions pertain to the identification of the figures, the stylistic and iconographical elements of the illustrations, the content of the inscriptions, the literary corpus they originate from and, whether the fragment belonged within a manuscript, as well as the time period and historical context of its production. The study identifies the figures as the equestrian martyr Saint George and the Archangel Michael, who are widely venerated in Coptic Christianity as protectors and intercessors. The inscriptions have been identified as consisting of biblical passages and extracts from psalms contained within the Agpeya, the book of hours of Coptic (Egyptian) Christians. For the Coptic Christians, the religiosity and reverence that the figures of Saint George and Archangel Michael inspire, the roles that define them, and the narratives that they are associated with, make them objects of devotion and power. The narratives emerging in the illustrations relate to the ideas of the triumph of goodness over evil, intercession between God and mankind and protection from adversities of life and safe passage into eternity. The discussion throws light on the Coptic painting traditions and iconographical programs that promoted the saintly narratives, and the styles that were in use in the Premodern period, such as the Akhmim Style from Upper Egypt, as well as the artists that propagated the art. The translation and analysis of the biblical content of the inscriptions, which contain invocations to Christ and Virgin Mary, brings into play the literary tradition pertaining to religious texts, the historical context of Copto-Arabic literature, the preservation of religious texts through manuscripts production, and the role of the monasteries in this area of activity.



Coptic language, George,--Saint,---303, Michael--(Archangel), Coptic art, Coptic illumination of books and manuscripts, Coptic Church


©2019 Fatima Nooruddin Esmail. All Rights Reserved.