Michael Caine’s brilliant point about Brexit sovereignty: ‘Rather be a poor master!’

Robert Curzon finds manuscripts from 4th century AD in Egypt

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Egypt is best-known for its coveted ancient history: a continuous civilisation that has lived along the banks of the river Nile for thousands of years. Many of the finds archaeologists and Egyptologists have made in the region consist largely of things like great statues of the pharaohs and mummified remains. In the 19th century, however, Robert Curzon, an English traveller and aristocrat, set out on a journey to the North African nation in search not of ancient Egypt, but ancient Christianity.

Curzon arrived in Alexandria, Egypt, three years later, and was aware that the country held early records about the religion that once swept the world — but did not know where to start.

But he was in the right place — by 300 AD Alexandria had become one of the great centres of Christianity.

Around the same time in Britain the religion was illegal and was often punishable by death.

Its followers within the Roman Empire would have to wait another 14 years to practice their faith freely.

So, with a knowledge of Christianity’s history, Curzon knew that Egypt held some of the religion’s earliest monasteries and, by extension, some of its earliest texts.

His momentous journey was explored during the Smithsonian Channel’s documentary, ‘Bible Hunters: Search for Truth’.

Dr Jeff Rose, an archaeologist who presented the show, travelled to Egypt to follow in Curzon’s footsteps, and explained how the monastic movement began in Egypt.

He said: “Monks who had gone out to the desert to live in solitude banded together in self-sufficient communities and those became the first monasteries.

“One of the oldest monasteries in Egypt, and the world, is the Syrian monastery 90 miles west of Cairo.

“In 1834, it took Curzon nearly two days to reach it by boat and camel, today it’s less than two hours away by [motor]bike.

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“Founded in the sixth century AD, the monastery was known for its wall paintings in its library of precious manuscripts.

“When Curzon visited the library, he found the place in complete disarray with manuscripts just littering the floor.”

Many of the books had been burned by poverty-stricken Egyptians desperate to keep warm.

But, some of the texts had been safeguarded and kept under lock and key.

Curzon was certain this was the case, and is said to have plied a blind monk with alcohol and coaxed him into showing him to the secret library within the depths of the monastery — and that is exactly what the monk did.


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The Englishman soon found himself surrounded by ancient biblical texts.

Dr Rose explained: “Inside the room, Curzon found a treasure trove, the dusty pages of some of the earliest dated Bible texts in existence.”

He found fully bound Christian manuscripts, as well as several gospel fragments, all written in ancient Syriac — a language similar to what Jesus would have spoken.

The texts dated back to the fourth century AD.

Dr Rose continued: “Curzon also stumbled upon a surprise — a biblical text, the Acts of Peter and Paul, which was never included in the Bible.

“At the time, questions about why this Christian text was omitted led to speculation among scholars about the accuracy of the Bible.”

Five years after his now-famous voyage, Curzon, hungry for more answers, set out once again.

This time his travels took him to Mount Athos in Greece — an important centre of Eastern Orthodox monasticism.

He later crossed over into Egypt via the Mediterranean to make several purchases.

His journeys resulted in the book, ‘Visit to the Monasteries in the Levant’.

It gained huge traction, and by 1881, Curzon had completed a further six expeditions to the Levant and the surrounding region.

His finds were viewed as breakthroughs in modern understanding of Christianity, and culminated in the British Museum’s acquisition of the collection of Nitrian manuscripts.

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The iconic film star, 89, has wowed audiences for decades, bringing a gritty excitement to worldwide cinema, and entertaining generations of people in the process. The Londoner is perhaps best known for his starring roles in films such as the Italian Job, Alfie and Get Carter. But it was for his standout performances in Hannah and her Sisters and The Cider House Rules that Sir Michael won the acclaim he’d craved, picking up Best Supporting Actor Oscars for his contributions in the films.

Another of his pictures that saw him nominated for an award, this time a BAFTA, was his performance in 1998’s Little Voice, which is being shown today on Channel 5.

While Sir Michael is highly regarded for his work behind the camera, he is also vocal away from it, particularly when it comes to politics.

This became particularly apparent during the Brexit debate that engulfed the nation in 2016.

That year, the UK voted to leave the EU, the Leave campaign triumphing over their Remain rivals with 52 percent of the vote.

The following year, during an interview with Sky News, Sir Michael noted how Britons had voted for “freedom” in the referendum”, noting the UK “will be alright” away from the EU.

He said that the Brexit vote “wasn’t about the racism, immigrants or anything ‒ it was about freedom”.

He added: “Politics is always chaotic.

“In politics, you’re always going into areas you’ve never been before, so you’re always going to get lost and then you’re going to find your way, and then it’ll be alright.”

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Sir Michael did not hold back in his criticism of the EU either.

He added: “To me, I think what you have in Europe is a sort of government-by-proxy of everybody who has now got carried away.

“You cannot be dictated to by thousands of faceless civil servants who make these rules and you say: ‘Wait a minute, is that right?’

“Then they argue about, financially, we buy more from them than we sell to them.”

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The actor, who has previously described himself as a “left-wing Tory”, has discussed in detail his political beliefs, arguing that he has been influenced by his working class background, as well as service during the Korean War.

His fallout with Labour reportedly came in the late-Seventies, when the party, under its leader James Callaghan, increased income tax levied on those earning the highest wage.

He did, however, return to the UK some eight years later when the Conservatives returned to power under Margaret Thatcher.

According to a 2009 Essex Chronicle report, Sir Michael said: “I realised that’s not a socialist country, it’s a communist country without a dictator, so I left and I was never going to come back.

“Maggie Thatcher came in and put the taxes back down and in the end, you know, you don’t mind paying tax.

“What am I going to do? Not pay tax and drive around in a Rolls-Royce, with cripples begging on the street like you see in some countries?”

One of his more recent roles, the 2009 film Harry Brown, also saw Sir Michael use his position to demand the reintroduction of national service in the UK to youngsters, claiming it offered “a sense of belonging, rather than a sense of violence”.

In 2000, Sir Michael received a BAFTA Fellowship and was knighted by the Queen in recognition of his contribution to cinema.

He remains one of the UK’s most highly-acclaimed actors and most recently appeared in the 2021 film Best Sellers.

Little Voice airs today on Channel 5 from 4.30pm.

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