I thought it appropriate to publish a few of Monica’s photographs taken while we lived and studied in Egypt in the 1980s, as well as saying a few words about her and her work. I chose a handful of my favourite images from her large archives, all originally taken on 35mm and professionally hand printed, but unfortunately digitalised on a phone camera for expedience.
Sunset at the Syrian monastery- Wadi Natrun, Egypt – cibachrome print ©Monica Rene 1990
Born in the idyllic coffee growing highlands of the Jamaican Blue Mountains, Monica came to England to join her mum in Oxford at the beginning of the 1960s. She went to school and spent all her teenage years there and always spoke of her special love for its quaint cobbled streets, ancient colleges and beautiful Oxfordshire country side.
Monica was born with sickle-cell anaemia, a genetic mutation which means the red blood cells are not able to properly carry oxygen around the body, breaking down into sickle shapes and blocking tiny blood vessels, thus provoking what is called a “sickle crisis” which requires a medical emergency. She had her first crisis at the age of 4, but was only accurately diagnosed with full sickle-cell disease in her 20s. Over the years, sickle-cell eventually brings on organ deterioration because (but not only) of a chronically low haemoglobin count. Once at the age of 25, she was told by a doctor that she wouldn’t reach 30. Later, at the age of 50 she was told by an eminent haematologist in California that she should take her last long-haul flight to find a place to die because she needed a lung and heart transplant. But, by the grace of God, Monica confounded them all by living out her full three score years and ten according to psalm 90:10 and was able to achieve more than most.
She was a true warrior, even in times of great suffering and physical weakness. Yet she did not let her disability define who she was or stop her from achieving her goals, breaking all the moulds and stereotypes at every opportunity. By her early 20s she had travelled extensively internationally, worked in high fashion and later as a fashion/beauty journalist, including a stint in the prestigious London Vogue’s fashion room in 1980. We married in 1977 and both converted to Orthodoxy 3 years later. Finding fashion quite shallow, she decided to return to university and eventually started a project at SOAS in the early 90s researching Coptic art.
We spent most of the 1980s living/studying in Egypt under the supervision of Prof Isaac Fanous. Always fascinated by cultural and art history, Coptic Egypt and particularly Coptic art, became the focus of her research for many years. She wrote when she could, usually between periods of illness or stays in hospital. Her published work remains the primary source of reference regarding the life and work of Prof. Isaac Fanous, and the Contemporary School of Coptic Iconography.
Monica’s light has not gone out but has only become stronger and brighter in our hearts. Her golden and generous heart and happy spirit will always be sorely missed. Her constant and ever increasing suffering, especially in the last 5-6 years has finally come to an end and she is now free of pain in the bosom of her Lord and Saviour Jesus-Christ.
It was a true privilege and a great blessing for me to be her husband for 45 short years.