June 4, 2012

Visiting the Monastery of Baramous | Egyptian Deserts

Visiting the Monastery of Baramous, 1833
Robert Curzon


This monastery consisted of a high stone wall, surrounding a square enclosure, of about an acre in extent. A large square tower commanded the narrow entrance, which was closed by a low and narrow iron door. Within there was a good- sized church in tolerable preservation, standing nearly in the centre of the enclosure, which contained nothing else but some ruined buildings, and a few large fig trees growing out of disjointed walls. Two or three poor-looking monks still tenanted the ruins of the abbey. They had hardly anything to offer us, and were glad to partake of some of the rice and other eatables which we had brought with us. I wandered about among the ruins with the half-starved monks following me. We went into the square tower, where, in a large vaulted room with open unglazed windows were forty or fifty Coptic manuscripts on cotton paper, lying on the floor, to which several of them adhered firmly, not having been moved for many years. I only found one leaf on vellum, which 1 brought away. The other manuscripts appeared to be all liturgies; most of them smelling of incense when I opened them, and well smeared with dirt and wax from the candles which had been held over them during the reading of the service. . . .

There were several curious lamps in this church formed of ancient glass, like those in the mosque of Sultan Hassan at Cairo, which are said to be of the same date as the mosque, and to be of Syrian manufacture. These, which were in the shape of large open vases, were ornamented with pious sentences in Arabic characters, in blue on a white ground. They were very handsome, and, except one of the same kind, which is now in England ... I never saw any like them. They are probably some of the most ancient specimens of ornamental glass existing, excepting, of course, the vases and lachrymatories of the classic times.

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