Coptic Martyrs of Lybia, Jordan Hainsey, Digital Photograph, 2018

Coptic Martyrs of Libya

This image recalls the 21 Coptic Christians martyred in 2015 by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and it depicts their moment of martyrdom.

The martyr's eyes are covered by the assassin, hiding his specific identity, thereby representing collectively all 21 martyrs. He kneels in an empty and darkned landscape. All is gone, all has been stripped from him, and yet his hope and trust in God remain. He refuses to lose his soul to the power of darkness. Instead, his sacrifice illuminates his figure; the jumpsuit of imprisonment becomes radiant in the splendor of Christian witness. 

The assassin's identity has been completely eradicated, removing all power from him and his act. He is left only to hold the knife which becomes an implement of victory in the martyr's passion. 

The assassin's left hand, traditionally the unclean, cursing hand, deals the fatal wound, while the martyr clutches the palm branch of victory in his right hand, that of blessing.

On February 15, 2015, a five-minute video was published, showing the beheading of the captives, dressed in orange jumpsuits, on a beach along the southern Mediterranean coast. A caption in the video called the captives the "People of the Cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian Church".

After the beheadings, the Coptic Orthodox church released their names, but there were only 20 names. In the video, the leader's victim was of black African descent, in contrast to the others, who were ethnic Copts. It was later learned that this 21st martyr was named Matthew Ayariga and that he was from Ghana. According to some sources, he was not originally a Christian, but he saw the immense faith of the others, and when the terrorists asked him if he rejected Jesus, he reportedly said, "Their God is my God", knowing that he would be martyred.Other sources report that he said, "I am a Christian and I am like them".

On February 21, 2015, the pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II announced that the 21 murdered Copts would be commemorated as martyr saints on the 8th Amshir of the Coptic calendar, which is February 15 of the Gregorian calendar. The commemoration falls on the feast day of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple.


  • 7th Nationwide Juried Catholic Arts Exhibition, 2018, The Saint Vincent Gallery, Latrobe, PA



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