Sisters Sara and Christine Zekry lug a heavy wooden table and place it carefully astride a church bench. Both begin mixing paints, and soon Sara steps gingerly onto the table. She reaches overhead and begins carefully applying tint to the ceiling. The sisters are practicing an ancient Coptic church tradition of mural painting.
The Copts are a people group originating from North Africa, in today’s Egypt and Sudan. Common religious and cultural background elements link the Copts. Those include ornate Coptic church art, including wall paintings, textiles, illuminated manuscripts, and metalwork.
Coptic Christianity emphasizes humans’ acts of faith in addition to Christ’s sacrifice to atone for sins. Rather than believing salvation is by faith alone in Jesus, Coptics believe God first (by sending Jesus, who died and rose for sins) and then people (who respond with good works) act together for salvation.
Sara Kamel Zekry, 25, is a fine arts graduate. Her studies led to her fascination with Coptic art. She passed on her passion to her younger sister, 23-year-old Christine. Equipped with paint and brushes, the pair tours churches in the village of Aazaz in southern Egypt.
The sisters adorn churches with their intricate Coptic art murals. “We paint ceilings, walls, and some wooden icons,” Sara says.
Artwork in Coptic churches is usually carried out by professional and established artists. But Sara quit her job and started the mural project a year and a half ago. She and her sister are the first two women to perform such a job in Upper Egypt.
Sara believes the church art helped her to understand the Bible even more. “Coptic art taught me how to understand the stories in [the Bible], conclude a meaning from them, and understand what each symbol refers to,” she says. “It made me deepen my knowledge further in the book.”
Today, the sisters work in their hometown in Sohag, on the west bank of the Nile. But Sara hopes someday “to get this art noticed more and more in many places.”
The painting task is exhausting. The sisters spend up to 12 hours finishing a single mural. “It is a difficult job to stand for eight or 12 hours like this, and I only take a small break every three or four hours,” Sara says. “But if one loves something and works on developing it, [she] will never get bored.”
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might. — Ecclesiastes 9:10
Why? God’s story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration seen in works of art can help viewers worship the Creator, appreciate His word and work, express spiritual truths, and communicate faith in Jesus Christ.