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Héléna Rochard

“Rediscovering Bawit: Pictorial Evidence for Monasticism in Byzantine and Early Islamic Egypt”

Héléna Rochard

École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris, Byzantine Studies Fellow, Fall

The wall paintings from Bawit represent by far the largest corpus of extant monastic decoration in the early Byzantine Empire (ca. 500–800). This period also coincides in Egypt with the beginning of its Islamization after the last Persian occupation (619–629), marking a profound and definitive transformation of the Egyptian society. Rochard’s research project aims to contribute to a comprehensive understanding of the monastery of Bawit, its internal organization, and its relationships with other Christian communities and non-Christians. Using the wall paintings as primary evidence and combining the recent archaeological and textual data and the extensive photographic and map archives, she challenges the stereotype of solitude and isolation of Egyptian monasteries and sheds new light on the spiritual life of monks. Her study reassesses the traditional view of a remote monastery in decline after the Arab conquest and offers a glimpse into the flourishing life of a Christian community during the Umayyad caliphate.

Héléna Rochard received her PhD in 2017 from PSL Research University and currently works as collection manager for the Christian and Byzantine Collection of the École Pratique des Hautes Études (Gabriel Millet archives) and teaches at the École du Louvre. She studied Christian archaeology, Byzantine art, and Coptic at the École du Louvre and obtained an MA in historical, philological, and religious sciences under the supervision of Catherine Jolivet-Lévy at the École Pratique des Hautes Études. In 2013, she joined the archaeological team of the Louvre-IFAO excavations at Bawit, and has conducted the study of the wall paintings, giving new insights into Egyptian monasticism, and protecting and preserving Coptic cultural heritage.