MATTHEW I (1336-1408)
A Saint and patriarch (87th, 1378-1408). Matthew is perhaps the greatest of the late medieval Coptic popes, a saintly monk who, as patriarch, organized major charitable operations, cultivated good relations with the Mamluk Sultan al-Zahir Barquq (1381-1399), and strove to serve and stabilize a Coptic community that had been declining in numbers and influence. His patriarchate was also marked by a wave of voluntary martyrdoms that began in 1380 and that claimed, in all, 49 lives.
As a figure in the history of Copto-Arabic literature, Matthew is remembered for a number of sermons that have been preserved in manuscript form, and more so for the panegyric sermon and “Life” that were composed shortly after his death. The “Life” was incorporated into the History of the Patriarchs, where it provides that compilation’s only extensive biography for a patriarch of the Mamluk period.
Furthermore, as patriarch, Matthew was surrounded by several remarkable saints: the monks Marqus al-Antuni and Ibrahim al-Fani of the Monastery of St. Antony and the urban ascetic Anba Ruways. Their “Lives” have also been preserved and, together with that of Matthew, provide a vivid picture of the Coptic community in often difficult times.