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Work Southern Church of Bawit

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Christian Egypt (fourth - twelfth centuries AD)

Southern Church of Bawit

© Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

Egyptian Antiquities
Christian Egypt (fourth - twelfth centuries AD)

Author(s):
Meurice Cédric

This church and the façade wall come from the Bawit site in Middle Egypt. Bawit was an extremely important and highly influential monastery site in Coptic Egypt from the fourth to the ninth century, and even beyond. Rediscovered by French archaeologist Jean Clédat in 1901, the church was reconstructed in the museum using archaeological archives and photographs, but most of all from objects obtained through the policy of dividing archaeological finds between Egypt and France.

A Reconstructed Façade

There were at least two churches at Bawit. The façade presented here was part of the north wall of the southern church. It is divided into several sections, which provide information concerning the structural layout of the building. The door on the western side would have been the larger of the two entrances. Two columns with scrolled capitals support a wooden lintel, itself richly decorated with a series of small paintings. A Greek cross covered with a strip of lead was placed in an aedicule, or small temple, framed by an alpha and omega, depicted in a similar manner and accompanied with Coptic inscriptions. Open scallop shells are depicted beside these images, with lions passant in the vegetation at the edges. The semicircular tympanum presents a concentric decor that includes a small aedicule with a scallop background, probably depicting the image of St. George slaying a dragon. All the elements in this reconstruction of the western door are original, with the exception of the capital on the west column. The east door, on the other hand, has a smaller, more modest decor. Yet the lintel presents a fairly similar set of images: a Greek cross with splayed arms within a scallop. The overall image is protected by an aedicule similar to that of the west door. The tympanum illustrates the episode of Jonah emerging from the whale.
 

Side Entrances

The richly decorated southern church illustrates one of the fundamental elements of Coptic art: the alternating use of wood and stone, creating a sense of balance and harmony that is fully expressed in this structure. This alternating pattern underscores the decor of the two doors and appears in the ornamental friezes on either side of the entrances. The eastern door, leading directly to the most sacred part of the church, could have been the clergy's entrance. Worshippers would therefore have used the western entrance. The side entrances - namely, the doors along the longer sides of the building (north and south façades), rather than the central doors (western façade) - are characteristic of Coptic churches.
 

Excavation Resumed, One Hundred Years On

After the Bawit site was prospected, a team of researchers from the Louvre Museum and the Cairo Institut Français d'Achéologie Orientale began excavation work in September 2003, with the goal of continuing research abandoned nearly one century earlier and studying the organization of the monastery.

Bibliography

Bénazeth Dominique, Baouit : une église copte au Louvre, Paris,
Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, collection "Solo", n 18, 2002.
Rutschowscaya Marie-Hélène, Le Christ et l'abbé Ména, Paris,
Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, collection "Solo", n 11, 1998.
 

Technical description

  • Southern Church of Bawit

    Sixth to eighth century

    Bawit

  • Sculpture in wood and stone

    W.15 m

  • Gift of the Egyptian government, as part of the policy of dividing archaeological finds, starting in 1902

    E 17075

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Lower ground floor
    Bawit room
    Room C

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