Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Feature: A pilgrim's tale

Al Ahram Weekly (Nader Habib)

Peter Grossmann, 76, spent more than four decades excavating the ruins of Deir Abu Mina, known in English as the Monastery of St Menas, in the desert near Mariout. Each year from 1961 to 2002 the German archaeologist would spend between one and three months sifting through the sand, digging up artefacts and generally trying to reconstruct an image of what pilgrims did there 13 centuries ago.

Grossmann was recently honoured for his efforts by the Coptic Church. The committee organising the festivities marking the passage of 17 centuries since the martyrdom of Mar Mina, or St Menas, paid tribute to Grossmann during a seminar held recently at the St Menas Church at Fomm Al-Khalig in Cairo.

Grossmann, who has been a towering figure in Christian archaeology over the past half century, spoke of the highlights of his career at a gathering of fellow archaeologists who came to Cairo for the event.

The modern story of Deir Abu Mina goes back to July 1905, when a German team led by archaeologist Carl Kaufmann discovered the monastery after travelling for 30 days on camel back from the Libyan Desert. A member of the Abu Ali tribe showed Kaufmann pottery fragments found in some desert ruins. Then a Bedouin boy brought a flask inscribed in Greek. The boy led Kaufmann to the site, where the archaeologists found an expanse of ruins that looked like a major settlement. The team soon started documenting the site in sketches and photographs.

No comments: