Cemeteries and Faces

There are many faces in Cairo’s Christian cemeteries. After entering a small one in Mar Girgis (‘St. George’) the first I saw were those of three young men playing backgammon at the gate. They returned my greeting without looking up. Most of the tombs were large, free-standing structures with a family name. Here are the Nassifs.

They were ornamented with icons, real and fake flowers, statues with exposed hearts.

Names and dates on gravestones do little for my imagination. If I am to conjure some idea of who the deceased might have been I need at least a phrase about their life, or manner of death, to start me off, preferably something not entirely platitudinous. It is nice to know that they ‘were deeply loved’ or ‘granted mercy’ or ‘taken into angels’ care’; but it is far better to see their face. This has been an option amongst Egypt’s Copts for a very long time:

In that small cemetery, there were plenty of modern equivalents. Here is one of the Nassif’s:

There were also scholars and great beauties.


At the rear of the cemetery, there was a long mausoleum that took up most of its back wall.

Inside  were marble graves stacked from floor to ceiling, most of them originally from Europe. There were the Bernadis from Parma:

Here are the Kuhns, she originally from South Africa, he from Lindau, Bavaria.

There was also a candidate for one of the worst things it can say on your gravestone.


Though it is of course better to have a gravestone than not. A few of the graves lacked their fronts, most of which were empty.

However, there was one exception.

This gentleman was still wearing his socks and shoes.

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