Thursday, February 17, 2022

A 12th-Century Coptic Gospel Book (Part 1)

Here is another beautiful manuscript which I stumbled across on one of my favorite websites for liturgical books, that of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France: a Coptic Gospel book dated (I presume on internal evidence) to the years 1178-80. (Département des Manuscrits. Copte 13) Unfortunately, the site doesn’t give any historical details about it, apart from the fact that it contains a portrait of the Coptic Pope Mark III, who reigned from 1166-89. There is a much higher concentration of illustrations in the Gospel of St Matthew, which I will cover in this post, than in the other three, which will be in a separate post. This is kind of surprising when one considers the tradition that the Evangelist St Mark founded the See of Alexandria. here I give only a selection, and have cropped the pages to highlight just the illustrations.

An image of Christ with writing in the border in Arabic; many of the smaller images have what appear to be Arabic captions added to them as well.

The portrait of the Coptic Pope Mark III
The beginning of the Gospel of St Matthew
The angel appears to St Joseph
The Magi are sent by King Herod to find “the new-born king of the Jews”; notice how the artist conveys the agitation of Herod and all of Jerusalem that was troubled with him by the position of their hands.

The Magi bring their gifts to Christ.
The Massacre of the Innocents
St John the Baptist preaching in the desert.
The Baptism of Christ
The last of the temptations of Christ; the angels come and minister to Him as the devil falls. 
The Sermon on the Mount
The healing of St Peter’s mother-in-law.
The storm on the sea.
The healing of the two possessed men in the region of the Gerasenes. 
The healing of a paralytic
The beheading of St John the Baptist
St Peter walks on the water. 
The Transfiguration
St Peter retrieves the tribute money from the mouth of the fish. The manuscript is full of decorative elements like the one seen here on the right with the NB in the middle of it, which are the indicators of an ancient chapter system for the Gospels known as the Eusebian canons.

The entry in the Jerusalem on Palm Sunday
The vendors of animals remove them from the temple after Christ chases them out; the decorative element above them is another part of the Eusebian canon system. 
Christ speaks to the disciples about the preparations for the Last Supper as the woman washes His feet.
The Last Supper
Christ speaks to the disciples in the garden of Gethsemane. 
The arrest of Christ
The high priest rends his garments at Jesus’ words “you shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of the power of God, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”
St Peter in mourning after betraying Christ
Judas hangs himself.
Christ before Pilate
The Crucifixion
The Body of Christ is taken down from the Cross
The angel appears to the woman at the tomb.
Christ meets the disciples on the mountain in Galilee.

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