Anthony Alcock: translation Wansleben’s1671 account of Coptic church

Anthony Alcock has translated a curiosity for us: an account of the state of the Coptic church in Egypt made by a certain Johann Michael Wansleben, and published in 1671.[1]  Wansleben was a Lutheran traveller who hoped to reach Ethiopia.  His book is an account of Egypt as it then was.

Here is Dr Alcock’s translation of Wansleben’s account:

Such an early account must be of great interest.  Indeed it would be nice to have all of Wansleben in English.  Thank you, Dr. A., for translating this section.

Here’s a taster from the end, which is interesting in its own right for how Coptic books tended to be alienated from their holders, and why so many Coptic churches were in a disgraceful state when the British arrived in the 19th century:

The Turks genuinely allow each person a free conscience, not only in Egypt but in all their countries, provided it does not affect them. Nonetheless they often deprived Christians of their best churches and monasteries. Some years ago the Monastery of the Raven in Manfalut was turned into a mosque.

Similarly the late Pasha Ibrahim, three years ago, built a mosque in the village of Matariya outside Cairo five miles away where the was a small chapel; behind it a porphyry appeared to foreigners, on top of which the Virgin used to stretch out the clothes of the baby Jesus to dry them after washing. Nearby is the spring that miraculously started to dispense water, thanks to the omnipotence of Jesus, when on His arrival in Egypt he was suffering from great thirst. To this day it still dispenses water so sweet that surpasses in goodness all other waters, whether from the fountains of Cairo or the Nile itself. The Pashas themselves, notwithstanding the distance from their castle or being enemies of Christians and their things, used this water in their refectories. Past the chapel the way leads down to a garden with the fig tree behind which, according to an ancient tradition, Our Lord hid during the persecution by Herod. Opening in the trunk by itself, the fig wove spiders’ webs so thick and old in appearance that they concealed Our Lord from his enemies as they went by and did not look for him. Today no Frank is allowed to visit these places since it is now a mosque.

The Turks also took the Church of Anastasius in Alexandria from the Copts and turned it into a mosque. They make no effort to restore churches fallen into ruin as a result of penalties. Indeed, the Christians are not keen on removing the spiders’ webs for fear that Turks find them attractive.

Moreover, the Turks tax the churches and monasteries heavily, as happened with the Abyssinians in Cairo fourteen years ago. The Pasha of that time, out of a certain apprehension he felt towards them, threatened to take away their churches if they did not pay a certain large sum of money. They were forced to sell the property of the church and their manuscript books to pay this tax, These books, about forty of them, had been sent by Father Eleazar, a Capuchin, to Mgr Pierre Seguier the Great Chancellor of France, in whose house I saw them. That is also the reason why I was able to find almost no Ethiopic book in Cairo, except for four in the possession of the Father, which I copied. These taxes gradually began to annoy the Christians so much that they were no longer able to resist. The number of Coptic churches is constantly being reduced, and I have no doubt that the Turks will soon confiscate the remainder. The Franks are in a better situation than the Copts, because the Turks not only allow them to attend church services without harassing them, but they also have more respect for the missionary Capuchins and Franciscans, who both have their chapels behind their place of residence, each wearing the dress suitable to their order.

All of this harassment and discrimination was normal in Egypt, then as now, as we find from accounts in the History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church of Alexandrai.  It was intended as a means to induce the Copts to convert to Islam.  It is remarkable, if we consider that they have suffered thirteen centuries of it, that the Copts have managed to remain in existence.

  1. [1] J. M. Wansleben, Relazione dell Stato presente dell’Egitto. 1671.  Online here; PDF via here.

Archellites – a 10th century Coptic poem, translated by Anthony Alcock

Anthony Alcock has sent me another translation from Coptic.  There is a collection of 10th century Coptic poems, which were published in Oriens Christianus (the volumes are online at  One of these is about the martyr Archellites.  Here it is:

There is no historical content to this, but it is useful to have this material in English – thank you!

I remember long ago transcribing the English translation of the Legend of Hilaria, a story about a female monk, who supposedly lived in the late 5th century, in the time of the Emperor Zeno.  There is also a Legend of Archellites.  In fact a translation of these two prose narratives, and the Coptic version of the Legend of the Seven Sleepers, was made in 1947 by James Drescher.[1]  A rather clumsy site has the book here.

UPDATE: There is a useful short article on Coptic poetry online here.  It is only two pages long.  It comes from the Coptic Encyclopedia.

  1. [1] James Drescher, Three Coptic Legends: Hilaria, Archellites, the Seven Sleepers, Cairo: Imprimerie de l’Institut Francais d’Archeologie Orientale, 1947.  Series:  Supplément aux des Annales du Service des antiquités de l’Égypte, Cahier No. 4.

Text and translation of three Coptic stelae – by Anthony Alcock

We don’t do a lot with inscriptions here.  But I wonder if people realise that there are inscriptions in Coptic?  I certainly never thought about this; but there are.

Anthony Alcock has made a text and English translation of three stone stelae, which have Coptic inscriptions.  These are from various locations around Egypt.


(I’ve asked Dr A. for the reference for the original publication – will add it later).

UPDATE: The source publication is Claudius Labib, Stèles Coptes Inédites, Cairo: Ain Shams Press, 1909. 32p.  This I found online! – labib-steles-copte-inedited-1909, PDF, from the Coptist blog.

The editor, Claudius Labib, was a Copt who sought to revive Coptic as a spoken language in his country, and with much success.  His publication is in Arabic and French.  The Coptist blog has a bibliography, with links to many of his works.

The use of Coptic by modern Egyptians – Anthony Alcock translates

I’ve been sent the attached PDF, which is a curiosity of great interest.  It is translated from a modern book, written entirely in modern Coptic, which Dr Alcock found on the web.

I think many of us would like to know more about how the last version of the Ancient Egyptian language is enjoying a revival in Egypt today!

(I apologise for my silence here recently.  I have been suffering from a dose of food poisoning for nearly two weeks now.  Your prayers would be appreciated.)

Shenoute, On the invasions of the “Ethiopians” – translated by Anthony Alcock

An item that Anthony Alcock translated some time ago, but did not reach me, is three texts by the 5th century Coptic abbot Shenoute, which are concerned with invasions by “Ethiopians” – presumably Nubians – at that period.

It will be remembered that the temples at Philae, on the southern Egyptian border, remained open for the use of pagans across the frontier, even after all the pagan temples had otherwise been closed.  Doubtless this was just a security matter; but it must have been a rather odd situation.  How, in an empire in which paganism was illegal, did the temples recruit priests?

But then again the Roman empire was not a modern state with the ability to impose totalitarian control on its people, and no doubt the answer was that matters continued for the most part as they had always done, and the temples were mainly staffed by locals.

Here is Shenoute’s short works on the aftermath of these invasions.

Shenoute – Adversus Graecos de usura / On usury, now online in English

The excellent Anthony Alcock has made a translation of a short but interesting text by the Coptic abbot Shenoute (or Shenouda).  The Latin title is Adversus Graecos de usura, but he titles it On labour relations and usury, and seems to question whether it can be really directed against the pagans.

Here is the translation:

I was unable to find the source text online, although it certainly used to be!  This is based on two manuscripts:

  • A = Codex Parisinus (BNF) Copt. 130.2, foll. 20-23.
  • B = British Museum 197, fol. 1.

All very welcome as usual – thank you!

Coptic “Life” of Maximus and Domitius

Anthony Alcock has continued his invaluable series of translations of Coptic literature.  The new item is a translation of the hagiographic Life of Saints Maximus and Domitius, who were brothers.  He adds a preface – read all about it!

There is an article online in the Coptic Encyclopedia here, from which I learn that the work is probably fifth century.

Has the lost “De baptismo” of Melito of Sardis been rediscovered in Coptic?

Alin Suciu has been undertaking the thankless task of sifting through Coptic patristic papyri.  It looks as if he may have struck gold!  A new second-century patristic text, no less!  From his blog:

At the Coptic congress, which this year will be held in Claremont, California, I will speak about the discovery of Melito of Sardes’ homily on the baptism of Christ in a Sahidic papyrus manuscript. My paper is entitled “Recovering a Hitherto Lost Patristic Text: Greek and Coptic Vestiges of Melito of Sardes’ De Baptismo.”

Here is the abstract:

“In this paper, I will argue that a fragmentary Sahidic papyrus manuscript featuring a homily on the baptism of Christ can be identified as Melito of Sardes’ De Baptismo. This early Christian writing has been considered to be lost with the sole exception of a quotation preserved in a Greek catena collection.

In the first part of the paper, I will show that the only known Greek fragment of Melito’s De Baptismo finds a parallel in a Sahidic papyrus manuscript.

In the second part, I will analyze the Coptic text and I will show that a number of similarities with the other works of Melito strengthen the hypothesis that the fragmentary papyrus actually contains his hitherto lost homily on the baptism of Christ.”

We can only hope that this is indeed the case.  Well done, Dr S.

A Coptic fragment of Severian of Gabala on Penitence via Alin Suciu

The excellent Alin Suciu has continued his trawl through uncatalogued Coptic papyri.  The lost papyri of Louvain have attracted his attention.  A post on his blog reports the discovery of parts of a Coptic version of CPG 4186, a homily by Severian of Gabala on penitence:

Under no. 48, Lefort published an unidentified papyrus fragment which he tentatively dated to the 6th or 7th century.[1] In fact, the text can be identified as a portion from a homily on penitence by Severian of Gabala (CPG 4186). Like all the other sermons of Severian, the Greek manuscript tradition transmitted this text under the name of John Chrysostom. It is thus no wonder that the homily can be found in different modern editions of Golden Mouth’s works. For example, in Montfaucon’s edition, which was taken over by Migne in his Patrologia Graeca, the text was printed as the seventh homily on penitence by John Chrysostom (cf. PG 49, coll. 323-336).

However, the attribution of this sermon to Severian was defended on good grounds by Charles Martin.[2] He pointed out that some Patristic catenae are quoting the text under the name of its real author: Severian of Gabala. Besides, it should be remarked that the style of the document does not conform to that of John Chrysostom, but rather contains many features proper to Severian.

The Coptic text published by Lefort corresponds literally to Migne PG 49, col. 325, lines 15-25. However, as the pagination of the Louvain fragment is lost and Lefort was not able to identify its content, he mixed up the recto/verso faces.

He goes on to give the edition of the Greek and Coptic.

This kind of work is immensely valuable to have online.  Well done, Dr S!