Les sept dormants

Les sept dormants: 
sept livres en hommage aux 7 moines de Tibhirine
Rachid Koraïchi
Arles: Actes Sud, 2004
Smithsonian Libraries

The Monks of Tibhirine

In 1996 seven of the nine Trappist monks who lived in the monastery of Tibhirine, Algeria, were assassinated by Islamist insurgents.  To memorialize these victims of terrorism, Rachid Koraïchi dedicated Les sept dormants (The seven sleepers) to the monks.

Koraïchi actually made two separate works titled Les sept dormants, one an abridged version of the first.[1]  The original 2003 Les sept dormants work is comprised of seven volumes containing seven French and English dedicatory texts by authors of Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and atheist backgrounds.  Koraïchi created ninety-eight copper-plate etchings in the form of Qur’anic tablets to accompany the set of seven books.  Each tablet is decorated with abstract symbols, numbers, letters, and inverse writings, all of which are motifs that reoccur in Koraichi’s work.

Each of the seven dedicatory texts, translated into Arabic by Walid Chmait, form a separate volume.  The authors chosen by Koraïchi are John Berger, Michel Butor, Hélèlen Cixous, Sylvie Germain, Nancy Huston, Alberto Manguel, and Leïla Sebbar.  Each volume is dedicated to one of the murdered monks: Brothers Christian, Christophe, Luc, Michel, Bruno, Célestin, and Paul. [2]

Also included is a prescient letter written by Christian de Chergé, the Prior of the monastery, shortly before he and the other monks were killed.  This letter reveals his conviction of the growing danger around the monastery and the calm with which he faced it.  The letter even includes a prayer of thanks and forgiveness for his expected executioner, the one he addresses as “friend of the last minute!”

By contrast, Les sept dormants, published the following year, is an abridged edition, condensing the seven volumes into seven chapters of a single codex.  The original etchings resembling Qur’anic tablets in the 2003 edition are reproduced in the 2004 edition as photographs by Hichem Driss.  They are placed on the left-hand pages, while the Arabic translations appear on the right-hand pages.  The pages with French texts have a blank page opposite.  The Arabic calligraphy is by Abdellah Akbar.

Taking advantage of the opposite directions of writing in French and Arabic, Koraïchi laid the French texts and the Arabic translations so that they begin at opposite ends of the chapters and proceed across each other, much like the warp and weft of a loom.  This mutual penetration of texts captures the beautiful spiritual marriage that united the monks of Tibhirine and their Muslim community years before the tragedy.

The codex is encased in a gray cloth slipcover with the title printed in silver lettering on the spine and on both sides of the slipcover, one side in French and the other in Arabic.

Les sept dormants : sept livres en hommage aux 7 moines de Tibhirine by Rachid Koraïchi, 2004. p.110 w?Case. African Art Museum artists' books exhibit research image.

Signs and Symbols

Raised in the Sufi tradition, Koraïchi employs Islamic graphic symbols in addition to other universal signs and symbols.  His art work reflects his fascination and familiarity with abstract signs.  He arranges symbols, glyphs, and ciphers drawn from various linguistic, mathematical, and numerological traditions.  These along with other signs that he invents are then used to create a marvelous text, une belle écriture, describing the beauty and mystery of our world.

Les sept dormants : sept livres en hommage aux 7 moines de Tibhirine by Rachid Koraïchi, 2004. p.174-175. African Art Museum artists' books exhibit research image.

The numerological character that marks Koraichi’s artist’s book is evident in the use of the number seven.  With Les sept dormant, we have the seven monks, the seven volumes/chapters, the dimensions of the volumes—7cm x 14 cm—and the number of tablets, which are multiples of seven (fourteen engravings for each chapter, ninety-eight for the whole work).

The Seven Sleepers

In Les sept dormants, Koraïchi spiritually invokes the number seven drawing a parallel between the seven monks of Tibhirine and the Seven Sleepers. an early Christian story.  In the Christian version, a group of Christian youths from Ephesus fled Decian persecution in the third century AD and sought refuge in a cave.  This story is retold in the Qur’an in Chapter XVIII, verses 9-16 (“The cave”), where it is said that, in order to protect their faith, the men sought refuge in a cave, where they fell asleep only to wake up years later.  The Qur’an intimates that the story is a metaphor for the suffering and trials of the faithful and the promise of resurrection.[3]  Christian and Islamic interpretations of the story of the Seven Sleepers diverge but have persisted through the centuries. 

In honoring the fallen monks of Tibhirine, Koraïchi’s work is confirmation of a basic truth common to both Christians and Muslims: faith in sacrifice and redemption.  This truth is embodied in the life and death of the monks of Tibhirine.

About the Artist

Rachid Koraïchi, born in 1947, hails from Ain Beida, Algeria.  He studied at the Algerian École des beaux-arts (1967–1971 and 1975–1977), continued his studies at the École nationale supérieur des art décoratifs de Paris (1971-1975), and the Institut d'urbanisme at the Académie de Paris (1973-1975).  In addition to painting, he creates installations that combine ceramics, metals, leather, textiles, and other media.


Kiser, John W. The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria.  New York: St. Martin's Press, 2002.

Koraïchi, Rachid. Eternity Is the Absence of Time. Edited by Gerard Houghton.  Abu Dhabi: Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation, 2011.

Koraïchi, Rachid.   Jardin d'orient: une œuvre de Rachid Koraïchi au Château d'Amboise.  [Témacine, Algérie]: Association Schams, [2005].

Koraïchi, Rachid.   Sculptures en métal pour un paysage urbain méditerranéen: "Il est 10 h en avril dans le jardin de Rajae": Farid Belkahia; "Les 7 portes du ciel."  Casablanca: Artibule Centre Culturel Français; Aigues-Mortes: Maison du gouverneur, 1993.

Koraïchi, Rachid.   Les sept dormants.  [Témacine, Algérie]: Association Schams, 2003.

Of Gods and Men [DVD].  A film produced by Xavier Beauvois.  Culver City, CA: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 2011.   (Sony Pictures Classics).

Wikipedia.  “Seven Sleepers.”   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Sleepers

[1]  Stefani Abadian-Crone, of the October Gallery, e-mail message, June 4, 2014.

[2]  The seven books were presented for the first time on December 30, 2003, in the Abbey of Aiguebelle in France; later, at the monastery of Tibhirine and in the cathedral of Algiers, they were shown before being offered to Pope Jean Paul II by the archbishop of Algiers, Monseigneur Henri Tessier.

[3] Wikipedia.  “Seven Sleepers.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Sleepers