|New research shows that about 1,500 years ago a community of Coptic nuns scribbled graffiti |
onto the temple of Seti I at Abydos. Photo by Steve F-E Cameron, CC attribution
Who says nuns don’t have any fun?
A new research project led by Professor Jennifer Westerfeld, of the University of Louisville, is taking a look at a unique set of graffiti scribbled onto the walls of a 3,200 year old Egyptian temple.
The temple was built at Abydos by Seti I, a powerful pharaoh who pushed the borders of the Egyptian empire as far as modern day Syria. It contains two courtyards, two hypostyle halls, chapels and an enigmatic structure known as the “Osireion,” which may commemorate the Egyptian story of creation.
Today this complex is covered in a large amount of graffiti dating from ancient times up until the medieval period. Westerfeld believes that a community of nuns contributed to this defacement, writing on its walls around 1,500 years ago.
“A significant corpus of late antique graffiti from the temple appears to have been produced by a community of Coptic nuns who periodically visited the site,” she writes in the abstract of a paper recently presented at the annual meeting of the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE).
Coptic is the Egyptian branch of Christianity and became widely practiced after the religious reforms of the Roman emperor Constantine in the early 4th century AD.
Westerfeld said that a find like this, if validated, is unprecedented.
“Such a collection of epigraphic evidence for female monastic activity is virtually unparalleled in Egypt,” she writes. “This material has never been fully edited or studied.”
In an email Professor Westerfeld declined an interview request, cautioning that this research is at a “very preliminary” stage and more work needs to be done.
However, if she is right, we’re about to learn about a community that, until now, has not had a voice in Egyptian history.