Andrew Henry

This project for ARCE, Coptic Iconography and the Embodiment of Divine Protection, will examine how Coptic icons were viewed as miracle-working objects throughout Coptic Christian history. Coptic literature from late antiquity to modernity describes icons weeping, bleeding, sweating, and performing miracles ranging from healings to exorcisms. A dramatic example occurs in The History of the Coptic Patriarchs during the 11th century CE as the bishop Mercurius, desperate to cure his leprosy, visits the Church of the Holy Virgin in Tima to pray before an icon of Mary. After three days begging Mary to heal him, the story says that Mercurius fell onto the icon when suddenly, “he saw the hand of this picture, as if it wiped his body, and he woke up and was cured of his sickness.” This story exemplifies a rich tradition surrounding miracle-working icons and the benefits they were thought to accord their viewers. Part of Andrew’s project involves examining the relevant icons in the ARCE Coptic Icons archive that represent this larger historical tendency to view icons as agents of miraculous healing and protection. For example, the motif of Saint George spearing a serpent extends throughout Coptic history as a protective image on amulets and icons alike. Paintings of rider saints such as Sissinios and Theodore at the Monastery of Saint Antony or the monastery in Bawit demonstrate that these motifs were believed to offer protection to the monks living there as far back as late antiquity. Andrew’s work with the Coptic Icons archive also involves developing a public-facing database that will enable scholars and the public at large to digitally access thousands of high-quality images of some of the most impressive examples of Coptic iconography in Egypt.