Art: Christians on the Nile

On clay fragments, in papyrus records —the words were everywhere: "Gone." Battered by oppressive taxes and tormented by religious persecution, the Christian Copts (their name comes from an Arab corruption of the Greek word for Egyptian) slipped from the bulging cities of 5th century Egypt into the silent desert, well in advance of the convulsive social earthquakes that rent the New Age from antiquity.

They found new roots in their own experience as farmers, brickmakers and weavers. Monks flocked to new monastic communities from among the common people as the Copts grew further away from the mainstream Christian churches. In succeeding centuries,...

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