Coptic Museum

This museum, founded in 1908, houses Coptic art from the earliest days of Christianity in Egypt right through to early Islam. It is a beautiful place, as much for the elaborate woodcarving in all the galleries as for the treasures they contain. These include sculpture that shows obvious continuity from the Ptolemaic period, rich textiles and whole walls of monastery frescoes. Allow at least a couple of hours to explore the 1200 or so pieces on display.

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3 Sharia Mar Girgis Coptic Cairo

The 2nd- to 5th-century funerary stelae from Kom Abou Billou clearly show the transition between Pharaonic and Coptic art, with the first crosses shaped like the ankh, key of life. The 4th- and 5th-century sculpture equally marks this transition, where Christian symbolism was influenced by Graeco-Roman mythology as well as older Pharaonic subjects. Rebirth through baptism of water is suggested by Aphrodite emerging from the waters on a seashell. Look out for the wonderful 7th- to 8th-century work of three mice asking a cat for peace. In Egypt, the depiction of animals behaving like humans dates back to 1500 BC.

Upstairs are two large rooms with exquisite 4th- to 7th-century Coptic textiles, woven and embroidered, and a room with the Nag Hammadi manuscripts, the primary source for Gnosticism, and the oldest book of psalms in the world, the Psalms of David, with two original wooden covers.

Nestled on the second floor of a Coptic Orthodox church, the museum’s small but mighty roots in its community have made waves despite its modest reputation.

On the corner of Glendinning Avenue in Scarborough, Ontario — removed from the bright lights and bustling city life of downtown Toronto — lies an unimposing church of deep significance to the Coptic Christian faith. Founded in 1987, the St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church was the first Coptic church built in North America. Now in its 33rd year of existence, the church is no longer just a historically significant house of worship, but home to one of Toronto’s best kept secrets: the Coptic Museum of Canada. It houses a collection of Coptic art and heritage, including unique works by one of Egypt’s finest modern artists, Marguerite Nakhla.

Located on the second floor of the church building, the Coptic Museum was established in 1996 by Father Marcos A. Marcos, the first Coptic priest commissioned to North America. The museum grew out of Father Marcos’s aspiration to showcase Coptic culture and cultivate its heritage in North America. Copts make up the largest Christian denomination in Egypt, Sudan, and Libya, and are one of the oldest Christian communities in the region. They historically spoke the Coptic language, which is a direct descendant of the Demotic Egyptian script used in late antiquity. They are also a distinct ethnic identity with a rich artistic history that includes wall paintings, textiles, manuscripts, and metalwork dating from the 3rd to the 12th century CE.

After being ordained in Egypt in 1964, Father Marcos moved to Toronto shortly thereafter and began collecting Coptic artifacts, which he continued to do for more than 25 years. His collection, which included important objects donated by other Coptic families, made up the basis of the museum’s holdings.

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