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Coptic language collections

The British Library's Coptic manuscript collection includes about 1,600 manuscripts dating from 350 to 2000 AD. The collection was one of the earliest to reach Europe, and includes a wide range of texts on papyrus, leather, vellum and paper. The Library also holds a small collection of printed materials, with about 1,500 books and serials.

Overview

Manuscripts

This comprises:

  • the Coptic Bible
  • liturgical works
  • Patristic literature
  • lives of the saints
  • magical and alchemical texts
  • history
  • philology (including Coptic-Arabic grammars)
  • a number of 19th-century transcripts of ancient manuscripts

A particular strength of the collection is its wide representation of illumination, miniatures, and palaeography. There is also an interesting collection of early Coptic binding fragments.

The earliest Coptic manuscript acquisition was a Gnostic work (Pistis Sophia) in 1785. But the bulk of the manuscript collection was assembled through H. Wallis Budge, who acquired a large share of the library of the White Monastery of Shenoute at Atripe (Athribis), as well as much material from the monasteries of the Wadi Natrun and the Fayyum.

Important subsequent additions were:

  • documents found at Aphrodito in 1901
  • codices brought from Edfu by Rustafjaell in 1907
  • legal papyri from Jeme
  • the Robert Curzon collection
  • the Wadi Sarga fragments

Manuscripts are now only very rarely acquired.

Printed books and serials

These are on a very small scale. They comprise early imprints as well as modern editions of texts and critical studies, mainly on the manuscript holdings and the Christian art of Egypt, and western journals relevant to Coptic studies. There are about 1,500 books and serials in total.

Catalogues

To access the Coptic language collections, see the separate catalogues and guides page.

Contact

Ilana Tahan, M.Phil., Lead Curator, Hebrew and Christian Orient Studies
Asian and African Studies
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London
NW1 2DB
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7646
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7641

E-mail: ilana.tahan@bl.uk