BUTRUS IBN SAHYUN AL-GHANNAMI
An eighteenth-century Catholic Copt born at Akhmim in Upper Egypt. G. Macaire, who in 1899 became the first Coptic Catholic patriarch under the name of Cyril II, says of him, “At the time of this venerable prelate [Athanasius, Coptic Catholic bishop of Jerusalem], there was living in Cairo the pious and wise Sahioun Ghanname, born of a family belonging to the old orthodoxy.” His name was in fact Butrus ibn Sahyun, nicknamed (al-mar‘uf bi-) al-Ghannami.
According to Macaire, he was “the author of several pious pamphlets and a remarkable treatise on the Coptic and Gregorian calendars.” We now know only the latter work. He composed it in the year A.M. 1485/A.H. 1182/A.D. 1769. He entitled it Mukhtasar al-Burhan al-wakid fi haqaqat ‘id (or yawm ‘id) al-Fish al-majid (Summary of the overwhelming proof concerning the date of the glorious feast of Easter).
The work is composed of thirty chapters. The author wishes to prove that the Gregorian calendar is the only true one and the only one which, unlike the Julian and Coptic calendars, is in conformity with the results of astronomical science. He remarks that the present Coptic year “is not the Egyptian year of yore, but is as it was reformed by Julius Caesar a few years before Christianity.” He also refutes the objections of his opponents. The work contains numerous tables of astronomical calculations, being composed to justify the Gregorian calendar introduced in Egypt by the Catholic missionaries.
Three copies of his work are known, although the present location of the third is uncertain. One is in Beirut (Oriental Library 206, nineteenth-century, 164 pages), one is in Sharfah (Syrian Catholic Patriarchate, Arabic 5/18, circa 1800, 190 folios), and the third is in Cairo and belonged to Murqus Jirjis, well-known bookseller and editor of numerous Coptic Arabic texts around 1920- 1930.
Butrus al-Ghannami must have belonged to a well-to-do family in Akhmim, which had sustained the small Coptic Catholic community from the beginning. On 4 October 1747 Jacques de Kremsier, the prefect of the Franciscan Mission of Egypt, wrote a detailed and informative report on the Coptic church in response to a questionnaire sent by the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide. The following reply is given in response to the fourteenth question concerning Catholic notables who could offer more assistance to the mission: “At Jirjah, a certain Butrus Abu Medri [Mitri].
At Akhmim, Sulayman al-Ghannami, who gave very generous help for the fabric of our church by providing us with all the materials. At Cairo, sir Makarius Kessavi [Kisawi], who offered considerable help to the fathers of the Holy Land during the persecution unleashed against them by the English consul” (Trossen, p. 204).
- Armalah Ishaq. Al-Turfah f makhtutat al-Sharfah, p. 353. Jounieh, 1936.
- Cheikho, L. Catalogue raisonné des manuscrits de la Bibliothèque Orientale de l’Université Saint-Joseph. Mélanges de l’Universite Saint Joseph 7, pp. 125-26, no. 206. Beirut, 1921.
- Macaire, G. Histoire de l’église d’Alexandrie depuis saint Marc jusqu’â nos jours, p. 353. Cairo, 1894.
- Sbath, P. Al-Fihris (Catalogue de manuscrits arabes), Vol. 2. pp. 7, 62 (no. 617). Cairo, 1939.
- Trossen, J.-P. Les Relations du patriarche copte Jean XVI avec Rome (1676-1718). Luxembourg, 1948.
KHALIL SAMIR, S.J.