[HNW] OT - Design & Coptic History (long)

Eowyn Amberdrake eowyna at sca-caid.org
Wed Apr 23 13:39:12 PDT 2003

Unto Gerald of Ipsley and the others here assembled:

I have not forgotten you. I have been  quite enjoying this
conversation, which has forced me to continue work on an
article I started back in the last millennium, about how
knotwork came to the Celts.  It is still in process, and I
will post it here in sections.

I am nearly out of the tremendous-time-suck of the last 30
days, which has included Pentathlon (which occurs once
every 2 years), Crown (held locally), celebrating Easter
by catching a spear with my head (scalp wounds do indeed
bleed profusely), writing enough on the sweet bag book to
keep ahead of the students (mostly ? I still owe a
description of how to do the plaited braid stitch) and
tonight is the Angel wrap party (ok, so I?m a Buffy-geek
too. Could I refuse the opportunity? Of course not).

But by the end of the week, I'll post the meat of my part
of the discussion on knotwork and the British Isles.

As background, I offer this. What follows is a bit of the
history of the early Christian Church with emphasis on the
Copts, and does not directly relate to knotwork design.
 But it provides a context of history as background for
that discussion.

"Coptic" is Greek for Egyptian.  Christianity in Egypt
goes back to the time of the Apostles. Much of the
following information comes from the online Catholic

There are four distinct varieties of Coptic Bibles,
apparently independently based on slightly different Greek
originals.  The Bohairic and the Fayumic versions do not
seem to have appeared before the 9th c., so I will ignore
them from here on.

That leaves the Sahidic and the Akhimimic codices, some
surviving (partial) copies of which are as old as the 4th
or 5th centuries.

Some scholars have sought to prove that some Coptic
version of the Bible must have been in  existence by the
end of the 2nd c.  Other scholars, led by Forbes Robinson,
feel that no pre-4th c. copies were written.  There was
certainly a Sahidic version of the Bible by 350AD.

Note that we are speaking of a conceptual book, of which
no complete copy survives.  One scholar, Horner, has
reconstructed most of the contents of such a version of
the Bible from fragments of over 150 different manuscripts
scattered in museums all over Europe.

These Coptic Bibles were widely distributed throughout the
Christian world, and predate the Latin Vulgate Bible.  St.
Jerome (c. 347 ? c. 420) translated the Old Testament into
Latin and wrote New Testament commentaries, but the
Vulgate Bible itself was finally collected  together in
the 6th c.

The proclamation of Constantine the Great that tolerated
the Christian religion in the Empire was in 306AD.  In
330, Constantine moved the Capital of the Empire to
Byzantium, which he renamed Constantinople. The
Greek-speaking Christian Church in the eastern part of the
Roman Empire developed its own liturgical traditions and
patriarchal government somewhat differently than the
Latin-speaking western Christian Church.

St. Augustine of Hippo (354 ? 430), writer and theologian,
was the most prominent of the Latin Fathers of the Church.
 His early years were spent in Carthage, North Africa.  He
was baptized a Christian in 387 in Milan.  He was ordained
in 391, and became bishop of Hippo (again in no. Africa)
in 396.  He almost certainly had at least one Coptic Bible
in his library.

The Copts broke from the Roman church in 451 when the
Council of Chalcedon rejected their doctrine of
Monophysitism.  Monophysitism ( from the Greek = "one
Nature") holds that in the Person of Christ there is but
one nature , and that nature is divine. The Coptic Church
later allied themselves with other Monophysite churches,
such as the Armenian and Jacobite churches, who split from
Rome in the fifth and sixth centuries, respectively.

In the 7th century, the Arabs conquered Egypt, and many
Copts became Muslim. They presumably refocussed their
decorative skills from illustrating Christian Gospels to
illustrating the Koran for the greater glory of Allah and
the words of His Prophet, Mohammed.

Among other things, a common Coptic origin of knotwork
provides a rationale for the strong similarities between
Celtic and Arabic knotwork.

The Great Schism in 1054 formalized the division of the
Western and Eastern Christian Churches, and the
Monophysitic churches were a natural part of the family of
Eastern Christian Churches, which includes the Nestorians
and the various Orthodox (who accepted the first seven
ecommunical councils) Churches. The ancient Orthodox
patriarchies were in Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch,
and Jerusalem.  The more recent ones are in Russia,
Serbia, Romania, Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria, and others.

To bring this all back to historical needlework, one of
the sources of knowledge of Coptic design are the Coptic
textiles that have been found.  These are actually woven,
rather than embroidered, however.  It is still my
intention to try recreating some by removing some weft
threads from a linen square, and using wool thread to
weave in the design.

Next: more about knotwork and Coptic design, and what some
experts say.

Eowyn Amberdrake, Caid
aka Melinda Sherbring, Los Angeles

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