Coptic Egypt: The Christians of the Nile

Coptic Egypt: The Christians of the Nile (French: L'Égypte copte, les chrétiens du Nil) is an illustrated monograph on Copts and Christian Egypt, published in pocket format by Éditions Gallimard in 2000. Written by the Belgian historian of religion Christian Cannuyer, this work is the 395th volume in the 'Découvertes Gallimard' collection[1] (known as 'New Horizons' in the United Kingdom, and 'Abrams Discoveries' in the United States).

Coptic Egypt:
The Christians of the Nile
L'Égypte copte, les chrétiens du Nil (Découvertes Gallimard, nº 395).jpg
First French edition. The cover featuring 'head of a dancer', wool textile, 4th–5th century, Louvre Museum, Paris.
AuthorChristian Cannuyer
Original titleL'Égypte copte, les chrétiens du Nil
TranslatorSophie Hawkes
Cover artistAnonymous
Release number
395th in collection
GenreNonfiction monograph
Publication date
4 May 2000
Published in English
Media typePrint (paperback)
Pages144 pp
ISBN978-2-0705-3512-5 (first edition)
Preceded byBerlin enfin ! 
Followed byVenise : La Sérénissime et la mer 


From left: US and UK editions.

The book is part of the Religions series in the 'Découvertes Gallimard' collection. According to the tradition of 'Découvertes', this collection is based on an abundant pictorial documentation and a way of bringing together visual documents and texts, enhanced by printing on coated paper; in other words, 'genuine monographs, published like art books'.[2] It's almost like a 'graphic novel', replete with colour plates.

The English-language edition entitled Coptic Egypt: The Christians of the Nile, came out in 2001. This book has only been translated into English.


The author traces in five chapters the early history, the rich artistic and spiritual heritage of the Egyptian Christians known as Copts in this densely illustrated volume, along with other topics, such as Coptic Christology, Coptic art and Christian conversions to Islam.[3] The book starts with 'The First Church of Alexandria' (chap. I), from Roman times (chap. II, 'When Egypt was Christian'), Islamic Egypt (chap. III, 'Under the Sign of the Crescent'), Turkish conquest and the rediscovery of Coptic Christians by the West (chap. IV, 'Crossing the Desert'), up to modern era (chap. V, 'The Copts in the Modern Era'). The author also gives a brief explanation of the influence of ancient Egyptian culture and religion on the Copts.

The second part of the book, the 'Documents', containing a compilation of excerpts divided into five parts: 1, Origins of the Egyptian church; 2, The Desert Fathers; 3, The echoes of ancient Egypt; 4, On earth as it is in heaven; 5, The Copts as seen by the West. They are followed by a map of Coptic Egypt, a list of further reading, list of illustrations and an index.


In ancient Egypt, religion was an omnipresent phenomenon. The Romans occupied the country at about the time when Christianity was born, an extraordinary phenomenon then took place: little by little, Christ replaced the Egyptian god Osiris, and all the more easily as the Gospels report the almost four-year stay of the Holy Family in the Nile Valley.[4] Alexandria, the great Mediterranean city, was the home to the first Christians in Egypt. According to the tradition, the Church was born here with Saint Mark the Evangelist, which later became part of the Eastern Christian Empire. Egypt even adopted Christianity as its state religion in the 4th century. Egypt at that time—especially Alexandria—was a real crossroads where the ancient culture of the Pharaohs, the Greek and Roman cultures, Judaic and Gnostic currents have had a strong influence on the young Christian communities.

The Copts today still use in their liturgy the Coptic language, derived from the ancient Egyptian, to pray in churches and monasteries founded in the 4th century by the Desert FathersAnthony, Pachomius, Paul of Thebes—and gather at festivals and pilgrimages dedicated to the Lord, the Mother of God, the saints and the martyrs.[5] Cannuyer explains the definition of the name Copt in his book:

The Copts are the Christians of Egypt. Theirs is among the most ancient forms of Christianity, born in the time of Jesus. The name derives from the Arabic Qibṭ, an abbreviation of the Greek name Aigýptios (Egyptian); this in turn is a derivation of Hikuptah, House of the Energy of Ptah, the religious name for Memphis, the capital city of ancient Egypt. Coptic Christianity mingles remnants of pharaonic practices, elements of Hellenistic and Byzantine Egyptian culture, and the dynamism of Arab civilization.[6]


On Babelio, the book has an average of 4.0/5 based on 4 ratings.[7] Goodreads reported, based on 20 ratings, the UK edition gets an average of 3.55 out of 5,[8] and the US edition 3.35/5 based on 26 ratings,[9] indicating 'generally positive opinions'.

In the Anglican newspaper Church Times, the review says: 'From the book, a glossy paperback crammed with facts and pictures.'[10]

Danièle Gillemon and Christian Laporte [fr] of Le Soir wrote that the book 'leaves nothing in the shadow of Christian Egypt. [...] For he [Christian Cannuyer] is fundamentally a linguist, Coptic remains an inexhaustible fount of knowledge and documentation. So it is not only addressed to students of Egyptology but to historians of early Christianity and to those of Gnosis. His book is a model of the genre, a genre which, it must be said, already has a lot of interesting titles. Popularisation? Yes, but made by a specialist. [...] [Compared with the Coptic Encyclopedia], neophytes will undoubtedly prefer the excellent and very handy "Découvertes Gallimard".'[11]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "L'Égypte copte : Les chrétiens du Nil, Collection Découvertes Gallimard (n° 395), Série Religions". (in French). Retrieved 6 December 2020.
  2. ^ Garcia, Daniel (1 November 2005). "L'invention des Découvertes". (in French). Retrieved 6 December 2020. De véritables monographies, éditées comme des livres d'art.
  3. ^ Watson, John H. (30 September 2001). "Copts are heirs to a splendid and unique heritage... a book review of Coptic Egypt: The Christians of the Nile". Watani International. Retrieved 6 December 2020.
  4. ^ Barrot, Olivier (presenter) (2000). Christian Cannuyer : L'Egypte copte, les chrétiens du Nil (TV programme) (in French). Paris: France 3. Retrieved 6 December 2020.
  5. ^ "L'Egypte copte : les chrétiens du Nil". (in French). Retrieved 6 December 2020.
  6. ^ Cannuyer, Christian (2001). "Chapter 1: The First Church of Alexandria". Coptic Egypt: The Christians of the Nile. 'New Horizons' series. Translated by Hawkes, Sophie. London: Thames & Hudson. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-500-30104-3.
  7. ^ "L'Égypte copte : Les chrétiens du Nil". (in French). Retrieved 6 December 2020.
  8. ^ "Coptic Egypt: The Christians of the Nile (New Horizons)". Retrieved 6 December 2020.
  9. ^ "Coptic Egypt: The Christians of the Nile (Abrams Discoveries)". Retrieved 6 December 2020.
  10. ^ "Coptic Egypt: The Christians of the Nile". 27 February 2007. Retrieved 20 December 2020.
  11. ^ Gillemon, Danièle; Laporte, Christian (24 May 2000). "Coptes un jour coptes toujours". (in French). Retrieved 6 December 2020.

External linksEdit