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04-02-2006, 01:36 PM
Sohag's heritage in focus
A week-long symposium on Christianity and monasticism opens today at Sohag's White Monastery, reports Jill Kamil

The community in Sohag has been showing such immense interest in the activities going on in and around their city for months now, in preparation for the third International Symposium on Coptic studies, said Coptologist Gawdat Gabra, that Fawzi Estephanos, president of the St Mark Foundation for Coptic Studies, along with members of the organising committee, decided to stage a public presentation on the event at the Coptic Cathedral.

"It was an opportunity to inform the residents of Sohag of the rich Christian heritage of the area," said Gabra.

The presentation was scheduled immediately before the reception and dinner for participants hosted by Bishop Pachom of Sohag.

The third symposium, which follows those convened in monasteries in Wadi Al-Natrun and Al-Fayoum, will continue until 7 February. Sohag has two monasteries, popularly known as the White and the Red, in reference to their construction in limestone and red brick respectively, and both are associated with St Shenoute, a local saint born in a village near Akhmim in the 4th century. Shenoute was a charismatic figure, an ardent nationalist and strict disciplinarian who emerged as an important social reformer. He was a well- educated man, with knowledge of Greek language and literature, and led attempts to purge Greek influence from Coptic writings. He gained wide renown, encouraged literacy and required monks to undertake the copying and illustration of manu******s.

Our knowledge of the early church in Egypt would have been much deeper had the library of the White Monastery survived intact. Unfortunately it was plundered towards the end of the nineteenth century. Texts were removed from their bindings by 19th century explorers and travelers and dismembered, and many, inevitably, were lost. Many folios ended up in libraries, museums, and private collections and, in some cases, fragments of the same texts are deposited in libraries on different sides of the world.

Extant texts included biblical manu******s, both the Old and New Testament, fragments of codices recording the decisions of the great Church Councils of Nicea and Ephesis, hagiographic texts intended for the spiritual edification of monks and writings of the Church Fathers.

There are, too, texts about Egypt's most popular saints, including Antony, one of the best known Egyptian hermits; his disciple and biographer Athanasius; Pachomius, who founded the form of monasticism that took his name; Samuel of Qalamun, who resisted the Melkites; and, of course, the prolific writings of St Shenoute and his successors. They are dispersed between the University Library in Cambridge, the Bibliotheca Laurentiana in Florence, the Rijksmuseum in Leiden, the Deutcesh Staatsbibliothek in Berlin, the Public Library of Saint Petersburg, the British Library in London, the John Rylands Library in Manchester, and libraries in Michigan, Moscow, Naples, New York, Oxford, Paris, Strasbourg, Venice, Vienna and the Vatican, not to mention collections in Cairo, in the Coptic Museum, the Egyptian Museum and the Institute Français d'Archéologie Orientale .

Many of the presentations at this week's symposium relate, not surprisingly, to St Shenoute himself: his place in the history of monasticism, his 'language', the rules of his White monastery federation, the care of the sick in his monasteries, the place of children in his writings, the survival of his foundations and the Coptic and Arabic versions of his life attributed to his disciple Besa, are all scheduled to be discussed.

When Shenoute died tens of thousands of devotees paid homage to him, and the White Monastery at Sohag became known as the Monastery of Saint Shenuda, one of Egypt's best known. His legend, as with all heroes, was embellished and expanded. He is said to have performed miracles, to have had the power of prophecy and to have lived 120 years.

"Bishop Yuhannes, secretary to Pope Shenuda and abbot of the White and the Red monasteries, will host tours of these two important foundations for participants at the symposium," said Gabra, "while the former, the White Monastery, will be providing accommodation."

24-02-2006, 02:35 PM
Al-Ahram Weekly - Heritage: Desert fathers in the limelight.htm


Desert fathers in the limelight
The Third Symposium on Coptic Studies that took place at the White Monastery of St Shenoude west of Sohag early this month cast light on the life and times of an extraordinary Upper Egyptian monk, says Jill Kamil

The opening ceremony on 2 February took place in the huge open courtyard of St Shenoude's Monastery, which lies some eight kilometres west of Sohag. Bishop Yuhannes, abbot of both the White and Red monasteries (so-called because the former is built of white limestone and the latter of red brick) welcomed the participants and organisers of the symposium at the entrance to the basilica, along with General Mohamed Sharawi, governor of Sohag, and his entourage, Bishop Bakhum of Sohag, Bishop Bashada of Akhmim, and an unexpectedly large representation of bishops from further afield along with their delegations. It soon became clear that not all the notables could be accommodated on the platform erected for them, and many had to take their seats with the participants. Present also was Abdullah Kamel, head of the Coptic and Islamic sector of the Supreme Council of Antiquities.