Coptic Textiles: A History Containing Vestments

I have been thinking about the Coptic Christians as we are hearing much about them in the news. I think their history is remarkable. My wee bit of knowledge takes me back to my collegiate art history classes. 
It is interesting to note that an unusual number of Coptic textiles survive today, due to the Coptic
contemporary Coptic art
custom of burying them with the dead, and to the aridity of Egyptian graves. The textiles are commonly linen or wool and use the colors red, blue, yellow, green, purple, black and brown. The dyes were re-markedly created from madder, indigo, woad, saffron, the murex shell, and the kermes insect.The basic garment was the tunic, which would become the dalmatic, similar to what deacons wear today. To
day I can associate this to our interest and passion for liturgical textiles that has grown into our business at Carrot Top Studio.
Regardless of the time in history we know that artists are influenced by their environment. Case in point, the early Coptic craftsmen had at their disposal a vast storehouse of images, many of which circulated in the form of patterns. They used pictorial motifs from the Greco-Roman tradition, including pastoral scenes related to the Nile River and mythological characters such as dancers who evoke Dionysian celebrations. Of Egyptian lineage are hieroglyphic figures such as the hare, signifying the verb, "to endure." Eastern motifs from Syrian and Persian fabrics were also incorporated which combined oriental hunters on horseback with running lions and leopards, and with Christian crosses. As they integrated the images into their weaving  the artisans created a distinct style, in which the figure and ornamentation are treated equally. 
Young Christ
This "Young Christ" panel is an example of Christian imagery on linen fabric from the 5th century. The youthful orbed Christ, seated on a throne, raises his two fingers in blessing. Christ gazes towards a haloed figure with short hair and a beard, whose Greek inscription names him Simon Peter. The figures are placed within arcades resting on columns; the arched canopies and upholstery are marbled.This hanging may have had a liturgical use. 


The cloth was dyed by the resist printing method. The creator of this linen cloth would have spread a protective layer of wax or clay on the area intended to be left undyed, or reserved. The technique is similar to the making of the batik fabrics that we love to incorporate into our clergy stoles today. When the resist was dry, the cloth was plunged into a vat of indigo dye. 

In the worship service I attended this past Sunday we concluded by singing the hymn "O Day of God, Draw Nigh" and the words do not escape me as I pray for Christian brothers and sisters around the world today...

Bring justice to our land,
That all may dwell secure,
And finely build for days to come
Foundations that endure.

Bring to our world of strife
Your sovereign word of peace,
That war may haunt the earth no more
And desolation cease.