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Egypt: Christian Monasteries of Egypt


The Christian Monasteries of Egypt

by Jimmy Dunn

 

Father Cidrek

 

St. Anthony's Monastery     in the Eastern Desert of Egypt


 

 

As some of our readers may have noticed, we have been running a series on monasteries in Egypt. This is a long term project to track down, record and provide as much information on as many of Egypt's monasteries as possible. Our research is ongoing, and as we explore each monastery, there will be a link to the research from Tour Egypt under our feature stories.

 

Before writing this article, I asked myself why tourists should be interested in visiting monasteries. Of course many people travel to Egypt specifically because it is part of the holy land and they wish to see holy monuments. But Egyptian monasteries have become very popular tourist destinations, and not just for people on religious tours. There are a number of reasons for this. First of all, due to the ancient monasteries' natural tendency to be isolated, many are original structures, unlike churches and other buildings of the same era that have often been rebuilt time and again. And while pharaonic monuments may be much older, they are typically shells, or at best, empty buildings deplete of their ancient furnishings and fixtures. In monasteries, we find daily, modern life often surrounded by icons, furnishings and the trappings of the living that sometimes date almost to the time of Christ. And, of course, Egypt's monasteries are the oldest in the world.

 

 

Bishoi Monastery in Wadi     El-Natrun

 

 

Prior to Christianity, there were Essenes, who withdrew from society and formed monastery style communities in order to pursue a contemplative life. We know of these from the Dead Sea Scrolls, but doubt that they had much influence on the development of early Christian monasteries in Egypt. The more probable causes were the early persecution of Christians in Egypt (by the Romans, who controlled Egypt at that time) and the heavy taxation that caused many people to loose their homes and land. In fact, the word anchorite which was used to refer to Christian monks, originally referred to people who left their land rather than face imprisonment for non-payment of debt.

 

Regardless of the reason, the earliest monasteries were in Egypt, and even today, some of these original monasteries remain inhabited. Near the Red Sea coast of Egypt, in a cave 270 meters beneath the monastery named for him lies the tomb of St. Anthony. His followers established what many believe to be the world's first monastery in the mid-fourth century AD. Today, many ancient monasteries continue to flourish in Egypt, and many of these do so because of tourism. Beyond the pyramids and ancient Egyptian antiquities, these bastions of the Christian religion are some of the most interesting places to visit in Egypt. And we should mention at this point that there are also a number of equally interesting convents, or monasteries for women.

 

While St. Anthony's Monastery is billed as the worlds oldest monastery, probably St. Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai, a Greek Orthodox community, is the most famous in Egypt. There are many reasons for this, including its interesting history, visits by the Catholic pope, its well preserved state, its location at the foot of Mount Sinai and the considerable media coverage it receives. Neither of these monasteries are probably Egypt's most important religiously. That distinction might likely go to the Monastery of St. Macarius in Wadi Al-Natrun, from which many of the Coptic Christian popes were selected. From the standpoint of density, it would appear that the area around Sohag abounds with at least ten monasteries.

 

 

Abu Magar Moastery in      Egypt

 

 

Classical Tours will very often visit several of the Monasteries as a matter of course. These will include St. Simeon Coptic monastery, which is an ancient, abandoned fortress monastery mostly built during the 7th century and located near Aswan. Some classical tours have also been know to visit the two ancient monasteries near Sohag Egypt. These are the White (Deir el-Abyad) Monastery and the Red (Deir Amba Bishoi) Monastery. But sometimes visitors will be unaware that they are even visiting an ancient monastery. This is often the case with Deir el Bahari, originally the temple of Hatshepsut, but at one time converted into a now uninhabited monastery. Still at other times, the focus of the tour may be on an ancient church, with little mention by the guides that it is part of a monastery. Regardless, most of the major monasteries will not be visited on a standard short tour, though frequently Sinai add-ons will make a stop at St. Catherine's Monastery. All other monasteries will require a special add-on, or a complete, specialized religious tour.

 

 

Abu Maker Monastery in      Egypt

 

 

Certainly the information in this article references just about all of the major communities, but it should be noted that there are probably some inhabited monasteries and many ancient monasteries that we have missed. Nevertheless, the purpose of this article is to provide the most comprehensive guide currently available. Those interested should bookmark this page. As we research each monastery, links will be provided.

 

 

Map showing various     locations of Monasteries in Egypt

 

None Specific Monasteries

 

 

Specific Monasteries

 

Near the Red Sea

 

Traditionally, the oldest monasteries are located between the Nile valley and Egypt's Red Sea coast in the Al Zaafarana area.. These include

 

Monasteries at Wadi Al Natrun

 

There are four active monasteries near Cairo at Wadi Al Natrun. Of these, probably the Monastery of St. Macarius is the best known. These include

 

 

There are also three uninhabited ancient monasteries that we know of. These include:

 

  • Monastery of St. John the Little

  • Armenian Monastery

  • Deir Anba Mussa al-Aswad (Monastery of Moses the Black, but possibly the old Baramus monastery)

 

Monasteries Near Wadi Al Natrum (Uninhabited)

 

 

Monasteries Near Sohag

 

 

Monasteries far from Sohag

 

 

The Sinai

 

 

The Fayoum Oasis

 

The Fayoum Oasis was, and really continues to be a center for Coptic Christians. Therefore there are a number of monasteries in the area, which include the

 

Cairo

 


Saqqara

 

 

Alexandria Monasteries

  • Holy Monastery of St. Savvas (Greek Orthodox)

 

El Minya (or Near)

 

Monasteries Near Assiut

 

Monasteries Near Aswan

 

The Nile Delta

 

There are also a number of monasteries and convents scattered about.

  • St. Mena Monastery at Mariotis (Maryut) built by Pope Kyrelloc 1 (But a young monastery)

  • Deir Abu Hinnis South of Antinoe (St. John's Monastery) (uninhabited) - Coptic

  • Deir Al-Adra (sometimes referenced as Deir al-Adhra near Minya

  • Naga ed-Deir (ancient monastery excavation site near just north of Girga

  • St. Pachomius Monastery at Edfu

  • St. Demyana Monastery at BararySt. George of Rozaikat at Luxor

 

Documentation on Monasteries and their Monks

 

Other Topics



Last Updated: August 21st, 2011

 

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