History of Société d’Archéologie Copte SAC

Establishment of the association

The Society for Coptic Archaeology Société d’Archéologie Copte was originally founded under the name: “The Association of Friends of Coptic Churches and Art – lʼAssociation des amis des Églises et de lʼArt Coptes” on April 24, 1934, thanks to the zeal of Mirrit Bey Boutros Ghali; who, at the age of twenty-six, was able to bring together a group of people concerned with culture, science and archaeology. In one of the halls of the Coptic Museum, they agreed to establish the Society for Coptic Archaeology. From the day of its foundation, the new association began to fill a gap that was noticeable in the academic circles; namely its lack of a center for research and publication on antiquities and studies related to the Coptic era. Hence, the Society for Coptic Archaeology became the only scientific Association in the world specialized in such studies. It was only natural for it then to have originated in Egypt, with its headquarters in the heart of Cairo.

When the Association was established, the Board of Directors was elected from among individuals with illustrious names in the world of Coptic archeology and academia. The members of the said board were: Mirrit Pasha Boutros Ghali, Georgi Bey Sobhi, Sami Jabra, Sesostris Sidaros Pasha, Adly Andraos, Kamel Othman Ghaleb, Crisol, Muhammad Shafiq Ghorbal, Michel Zogheib and Youssef Morcos Semeika, among other prominent figures. The Association established its headquarters at 15 Al-Walda Pasha Street in Garden City, within three rooms on the ground floor of the Ghali family palace in Garden City, where it first launched its activities.

The Association’s nae

In 1934, the Association was founded under the name “lʼAssociation des amis des Églises et de lʼArt Coptes” (The Association of Friends of Coptic Churches and Art). In 1937, after archaeologist Charles Bachatly was appointed general secretary of the Association, Mirrit decided to change the name of the Association to its current name: “La Société d’Archéologie Copte” (The Society for Coptic Archaeology), in order to suit the Association’s mission, which was the publication of Coptic research; namely, studies of Coptic archaeology, arts, language, literature, and manuscripts.

Archaeologist Charles Bachatly, who was appointed Secretary-General of the Association in 1936, was responsible for the change in the nature and purpose of the Society, of which its essence was a scientific institution for study and publication.

The current headquarters of the association

In 1960, architect Wassef Bey (Michel) Boutros Ghali, the late president of the association, designed an annex to El-Boutrosiya church, which was completed in 1961. In 1963, the Association moved into its current headquarters, within the new annex attached to the Church of Saints Peter and Paul (El-Boutrosiya) in Abbasiya which lies behind Al-Safa Hall. The association has a private entrance on Ramses Street. The headquarters consists of a single-storey, a central square open court surrounded by a corridor on three sides, and running parallel to it, the galleries holding the association’s rooms.

Scientific publications of the association

Charles Bachatly laid the foundation for the association’s most important publications; first the periodical, followed by the series of art and archaeology, the series of texts and documents, and the series of reports on excavations, in addition to various other publications such as the survey map of Egypt and some books about Coptic antiquities in Egypt. Since then, the association has come to life as an academic and international scientific institution.

Since its establishment, the Society has also published more than fifty books in various fields of Coptology. This can be divided into five sections as follows:

1) The association’s Excavations Fouilles De La Societe D’archeologie Copte, where the American papyrologist Leslie S.B. MacCoull published the work of the Society’s excavations at the Monastery of Phoebammon in Luxor, in three volumes.

2) The Art and Archaeology section Bibliotheque D’art Et D’archeologie, where three books were published.

3) The Texts and Documents section Textes Et Documents, which is the largest. Nineteen books have been published under this section, the most important of which is the book The Rite of the Ordination of Patriarchs by Oswald Burmester, and Siyar al-Bayʻah al-Muqaddasah, which is a history of the patriarchs of the Egyptian Church by Severus ibn al-Muqaffa, and which is the largest and most important reference of its kind. This project took several years, from 1943 till 1974, and involved the greatest scholars of Coptology and Christian-Arab heritage, namely Dr. Aziz Surial Attia, Professor Yassi Abdel Masih, Oswald Burmester, and Antoine Khater. Also The Chrism ritual by Youhanna Nessim Youssef and Sameh Farouk Henein. The most recent publication in this section is Coptic Arabic Literature by Adel Sidarus, 2024.

4) The Manuscript Catalogs, Bibliothèque De Manuscrits. So far, catalogs for the manuscripts of three churches have been published: the Church of Abu Serga, the Church of St. Barbara, and the Church of St. Mina in Fum El-Khalig. The Association is currently collaborating with Fr. Ugo Zanetti, to write and publish the expanded catalog of the manuscripts of the Abu Maqar Monastery in Wadi El-Natroun, which will be published in three or more volumes. A number of other catalogs are also in preparation.

5) Miscellaneous Publications Divers. This section deals with a variety of activities that cannot be classified under any of the aforementioned sections. Fourteen books have been published in this section, the most recent of which is The sermons of Abba Shenouda the Archimandrite in 2011.

The Library

Bachatly laid the first block in the association’s current library, which contains more than 20,000 of the rarest books, most of which are in European languages, in the Association’s specialized fields of study: the Department of Coptic Studies with its various branches, the Department of Egyptology, the Department of Syriac Studies, the Department of Ethiopic Studies, the Department of Armenian Studies, and the Department of Arab Studies. The upper gallery of the library houses the international periodicals that are gifted to the Association from more than 15 countries around the world as a result of scientific exchange between the Association and these institutions and universities.

The first exhibition of Coptic art

On December 7, 1944, Bachatly held an important exhibition for Coptic art in partnership with the Coptic Museum, the Museum of Islamic Art, and many owners of private collections. It was the first exhibition involving Coptic art and was opened by King Farouk. It was a successful exhibition in terms of the number of visitors and the quality of its exhibits, which covered all aspects of Coptic art. The exhibition guide, which was prepared by Professor A. J. B. Wace and Dr. Étienne Drioton, was printed in Arabic, English and French.

Excavations of the Society for Coptic Archaeology

The Society’s excavations lasted from 1935 till 1955. In the years 1947 and 1948, Bachatly uncovered the Monastery of St. Phoebammon on the west bank of the Nile, south of Luxor. The Society issued reports of these excavations in three volumes: on the siteʼs antiquities (in 1965) and the site’s texts (in 1965). The third and final volume defined plant, animal and chemical remains (in 1961). The Society has also occasionally participated in other excavations.

Establishment of the International Association for Coptic Studies

The Society for Coptic Archaeology was known and famous at the international level, to the extent that it was a pioneer in establishing the International Association for Coptic Studies in 1975.

Mirrit Pasha Boutros Ghali, who was one of its founders, was the first to call for the establishment of the association, and Dr. Gamal Mukhtar invited all the professors of Coptology and those interested in it to attend the First Conference for Coptic Studies in Cairo, in which it was agreed to establish the International Association for Coptic Studies (IACS), and to hold a conference every four years. Then it was agreed that the International Association for Coptic Studies would have one of its headquarters at the Society of Coptic Archaeology in Cairo and Dr. Oswald Burmester became the first director for the said headquarters.

The first conference for the IACS at the Society for Coptic Archaeology’s headquarters took place in Al-Safa Hall in 1976 AD, during which, the term “Coptology” was established for the first time.

Librarians of the Association throughout its history

Over the course of nearly a century, some of the best Coptology scholars have taken turns to run the library. Charles Bachatly was its first librarian from its establishment until his death in 1957. In 1956, Oswald Burmester (professor of liturgical studies) was appointed librarian, followed by the prominent papyrologist Leslie MacCoull, Antoine Khater, who edited many texts including The History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church, Youhanna Nessim Youssef, professor of liturgy at the Catholic University in Australia, Hungarian musicologist Margit Tóth, Fr. Wadi Awad, a Franciscan professor of Patrology in Catholic seminaries, and prominent scholar of Christian Arabic literature, and currently, Nabil Farouk Fayez Awad, a scholar of Christian Arabic literature.

In conclusion

In those ninety years that have passed since its establishment, we remember what Mirrit Boutros Ghali wrote: “The Association has always maintained, and continues to maintain, its complete independence as a scientific institution and is not connected to any church body. Its board of directors includes members affiliated with several Christian and non-Christian faiths.”

History of the BSAC (“Bulletin de la Société d’Archéologie Copte”)

Bulletin de la Société d’Archéologie Copte is the first and oldest periodical in the world dedicated to Coptology. It is an annual international peer-reviewed journal, published by the Society for Coptic Archaeology, and known in global and international circles by the abbreviation BSAC. In the early years, the journal was not published regularly due to many circumstances, including the outbreak of World War II (1939-1945), but it has become steady for many years now.

The journal was founded in 1935. When the first issue was published in 1936, it included an editorial from the Association dated December 31, 1935, telling how the journal came to be, in addition to four articles by prominent Coptology scholars such as Pierre Gougé, Henri Monet, Sami Gabra, and Georgi Sobhi. For the first three years, the journal was called “Bulletin de lʼAssociation des amis des Églises et de lʼArt Coptes”.

In 1937, after the appointment of archaeologist Charles Bachtaly as Secretary-General of the Society, Mirrit Boutros-Ghali decided to change the name of the Society to the “Société d’Archéologie Copte” (The Society for Coptic Archaeology) which is the name it bears to the present day. The choice of this name reflects the Association’s main mission, which is the publication of Coptic research; namely, studies of Coptic archaeology, arts, language, literature, and manuscripts.

With the fourth issue, which was published in 1938, the magazine bore its new name: Bulletin de la Société d’Archéologie. Copte.

Over the years, the journal has formed an interdisciplinary platform that has incorporated a wide range of related disciplines, including: Coptic literature, architecture, art, archaeology, history, Coptic language, liturgy, biographical texts, and Christian Arabic literature. The articles published in the journal included contributions from world-renowned Coptology scholars in the fields of archaeology and architecture, such as K.A.C. Creswell, Étienne Drioton, Peter Grossmann, Karel Innemée, Dominique Bénazeth and Jacek Kościuk. On Coptic literature and papyrology: Walter C. Till, Alla Elanskaya, Leslie S.B. MacCoull, Jacques Van Der Vliet. On art history: Zuzana Skálova. On Coptic music: Marian Robertson and Hans Hickmann. On the manuscripts added to the Coptic Museum: Samiha Abdel Shaheed Abd El-Nour. On Coptic language and textual criticism: William H Worrell, Georgy Bey Sobhy, Pierre Du Bourguet, James Drescher, Wahib.A. Girgis (Anba Gregorios, Bishop), and Rodolphe Kasser. On Coptic textiles: Sofia Schaten. On liturgy: Oswald Burmester, De Lacy OʼLeary, Yassā ʽAbd Al-Masīḥ, Jacob Muyser, Gerard Viaud, Ugo Zanetti, and Youhanna N. Youssef. On history: Aziz Suryal Atiya, Otto Meinardus, Murad Kamil, and Gawdat Gabra. On Hagiography: Jacob Muyser and René-Georges Coquin. On the geography of Egypt and its parishes: Henri Munier. On the Christian Arabic literature: Georg Graf, Antoine Khater, Adel Yussef Sidarus, Fr. Wadi Awad the Franciscan, and Nabil Farouk F. Awad.

BSAC continued to publish research papers from the most competent scholars of Coptology and related studies, such as Ethiopic, Syriac, and Byzantine studies in the world, among which we mention: Maria Cramer, A. Piankoff, J. Schwartz, S Sebastian P. Brock, Iris Ḥabῑb Al-Maṣri, and Sami Gabra.

Along with these specialists, BSAC is committed to publishing the contributions of young and emerging scholars of Coptic studies so that their voices contribute to the wider Coptic studiesʼ debate.

The journal also publishes reviews of recent books, whether published in Egypt or abroad, that are received by the library in order to provide the reader with the latest research topics.

The journal honors famous researchers in this field by dedicating issues inclusive of articles by their students and Colleagues. quantamood aft two of tibbe This is a tradition that has been established for nearly half a century. Issues have been dedicated to scientists and academics from France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and other leading countries in this field.

The Association’s journal honors the late scholars by giving an overview of their lives, their most important works, and their contribution to the field of Coptic studies.

Recently, the Association has launched an event for the presentation of master theses and doctoral dissertations defended in Egypt, giving young scholars the opportunity to receive feedback and to exchange with similar scientific bodies around the world.