Coptic Christian history lost to thieves in Egypt
|St. Kolta Church was founded in the four century and flourished in the sixth. Experts say this area is a link between ancient Egypt and medieval Egypt and is an important part of early Christian history [Credit: Betsy Heil/Tribune-Review]|
Samah Shehata, who is supervising construction of the Virgin Nunnery at the mountain's base, says Christians come here to pray every 15 days. He calls it “a beautiful thing.”
Lush farm fields circle the stark desert mountain like a green carpet; the only sound comes from an irrigation pump drawing water from the Nile.
This is where Christianity mixed with ancient Egypt, he says. Early Coptic Christians came here to pray and “to escape repression and preserve religious texts.”
Christian scribes lived in a cave that became a library, he explains. An escape hatch between its two floors allowed them to flee if attacked; hooks for oil lamps hang from its ceiling.
Now, like so many ancient Christian and Pharaonic sites in Egypt, this one faces a new threat.
Ansana, as this largely unstudied region once was called, is important because it documents centuries of “Christianity in Egypt, as well as the daily life of Egyptians and monks,” Hanna says.
They are targets of growing violence, especially since the country's 2011 revolution. Islamists burned nearly 50 churches in August in the aftermath of the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsy.
Looters are the threat to this mountain church and surrounding caves; they scavenge for artifacts to sell to tourists or collectors.
Scavengers chipped away at an elaborate cross engraved into the rock entrance of another cave, trying to loosen it.
A similar cross, decorated with church bells and eagles, marks a cave where students once studied to become monks. Not far off, three looters brazenly dig, fresh red earth piled around the hole.
|An old elaborate Christian carving in the mountains near Deir Abu Hanas village. Looters have tried to extract it from the cave walls [Credit: Betsy Heil/Tribune-Review]|
El Bagoushy says he is a guide and, surprisingly, persuades the looter to pose with him for a photograph. The other men, one carrying a shotgun, quickly scoot away.
El Bagoushy says government and church authorities ignore “all this sneak digging.”
|Looters are digging up an area that early Coptic Christians used as a Church and school for monks. They were famous for copying religious texts and cut hermetic formations into the rock walls to protect them [Credit: Betsy Heil/Tribune-Review]|
“We try as much as we can to stop them,” he says, “but, as you can see, they are armed.”
The mesh is ripped from a gate guarding St. Kolta Church; Shehata says authorities have ignored requests for two years to put gates on other caves.
Hanna, the archaeologist, mourns the “huge loss for Christian history” from the thievery.
|Ishaq El Bagoushy shows the 6th century icons depicting the birth of Jesus, Herod and the children of Bethlehem in the 4th Century Church of St. Kolta in Upper Egypt [Credit: Betsy Heil/Tribune-Review]|
El Bagoushy agrees: “It is not just Christian history, it is Egyptian history. Any trespass on our antiquities or our history is an assault on us all.”
In the distance, a group of men ride motorcycles up the mountainside. “Look, you can see them going back up again, to continue looting,” he says.
Author: Betsy Hiel | Source: Tribune Live [December 24, 2013]
Labels ArchaeoHeritage, Archaeology, Breakingnews, Egypt, Greater Middle East, Heritage, More Stuff, Near East