Iconography of the Illusory Curtain in Coptic Murals and its Significance

Document Type : Original Article



The curtain is widely used in the Coptic Orthodox Church, either as a decorated textile hung before the door of the sanctuary haikal, or as a pictorial motif being extensively represented on the walls of the niches of different monasteries like the monastery of Apa Apollo at Bawit, the Red Monastery and the Monastery of Abu Fana, taking four different forms; the closed, the opened or torn curtain, the semi-opened and the drapery which decorates the lower zones of the walls of the churches.
 The using of the curtain in churches is influenced by Jewish tradition of separating the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle, where the God exists, by using a curtain (Exodus 26: 1-6),beyond which only the high priest was allowed to pass to present the atonement for sins. According to the Christian tradition,this curtain was torn in two parts at the moment of the death of the Christ who, through his sacrifice, presented the sufficient atonement for sins,opened the Holy of Holies to the faithful for salvation and gave the Christians a free permanent access to God (Mathew 27:51; Mark 15:38;Luke 23:45). Therefore, the curtain subsequently became the symbol of the Christ, the transparent boundary connecting the earthly and the heavenly worlds, transformed into an essential liturgical feature in the Coptic Church.
This paper aims to discuss the different representations of the illusory curtain in Coptic murals and their architectural context to understand its symbolic concept in the Coptic liturgy.


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