Two pages from the Nag Hammadi Library (Codex II)
Inv. No. 10544
H: 28 cm, W: 15 cm
Jabal al-Taref, near Nag Hammadi, 4th century

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.

Frontispiece of a gospel
Inv. No. 90
Oriental paper
Written by the Priest Abul-Fadl in Damascus, 1340 A.D.

By the 10th century Coptic documents began to be translated into Arabic, the official language in Egypt following the Arab conquest in 641 A.D. The title page of this gospel is decorated with geometrical design comprising four polygons with crosses framed by interlaced borders and foliage. This ornate pattern of blue and gold shows a clear influence of Mameluke art. The script is written in the kufic style (the oldest form of Arabic calligraphy). Originally the gospel was housed in the library of the Coptic Patriarchate and could be borrowed for a maximum of 5 days.

The epistles of St. Paul, the Catholic epistles and the acts in Copto-Arabic
Inv. No. 146
The Church of St. Mercurius (Abu Sayfayn), Old Cairo, 1249 A.D.

The titles of each book are written inside the frontispiece and illuminated in gold and colored pigments. This miniature depicts the four apostles: James, Peter, John and Jude.
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Inv. No. 4091
Vegetable paper
Unknown provenance, 1743 A.D.

A psalmody consists of religious songs, prayers and poems and plays a major role in the Coptic-Orthodox liturgy and personal devotion. This example is written in Coptic with a transliteration into Arabic and is decorated on various pages. This Folio 177v features Moses and God speaking to him from within a Burning Bush.

Lectionary for Holy Week, with Homilies
Inv. No. 1017
The Church of Holy Virgin at Haret Zuwayla, Cairo, 1625 A.D.

This lavish liturgical manuscript of readings used in the service of the Holy Week, presents a Coptic-Arabic bilingual text in adjacent columns. The frontispiece, facing the opening page of the text, features a cross illuminated in gold and blue pigment.

The Four Gospels
Inv. No. 147
Linen paper
Unknown provenance, 1226 A.D.

The four Gospels in Arabic are decorated with punctuation marks as gilt rosettes and miniatures of the four evangelists. This illumination shows St. John painted in tempera and gold.

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