Christian Nitria, Kellia (Cellia) and the Life of their Ancient Monks

Christian Nitria, Kellia

and the Life of their Ancient Monks

by Jimmy Dunn

As a Christian myself, I end up wondering if, after two thousand years, we know the intent and will of Christ better than those who worshipped in his name two hundred years after his death. Though it is often not emphasized in modern Christianity, particularly in the West, it would seem that some examination of how the early Christians worshipped, as well as how they led their lives, would be not only interesting, but instructional. Hence, my interest in ancient Egyptian Christianity and indeed the Coptic Christians who continue to worship today much as they did over a millennium ago after the Apostle Mark brought the words of Christ to this most ancient of lands.

Those interested in Christianity in Egypt, or for that matter, the origins of monastic Christian life anywhere, are almost certainly familiar with the name Anthony, known to many as the founder of Christian monasteries. From his life, they are probably also familiar with St. Paul. Their two monasteries (St. Anthony's and St. Pauls) remain one of the principle attractions for visitors to Egypt's Eastern Desert.

A man named Amun is much less familiar to us, and yet seems to have been considerably influential in building early monastic societies. Unfortunately, he established monasteries, or communities of monks on the edge of cultivation along the western side of the Nile Delta. Hence, most of these huge communities that grew up, specifically in Nitria and at Kellia (the Cells), are lost to us for various reasons, not the least of which was an intense program of reclamation of the arid lands lying on the edge of the fertile zone.

Because of the destruction of Nitria and Kellia, it seems that Amun, their founder, is elusive. He was a native of a small town in the delta, born apparently to a rich family in about 280 AD, but orphaned at a rather young age. He was raised by an uncle who appears to have forced him to marry against his will when he was about twenty-two years of age.

The Creation of Nitria

However, we are told that, having already consecrated his life to God, Amun succeeded in convincing his new wife to live with him without consummating their marriage. Because of this, their house itself soon grew into a true monastery after the couple won over their slaves to the practice of continence. Perhaps it is not surprising though that after some eighteen years of this life, his wife urged him to embrace a full and unmitigated anchoritic way of live. He agreed, withdrawing to Nitria where he established his first true colony of anchorites in about 330 AD, and because his holy nature was adorned with a charismatic personality, this community quickly grew in size.

Christian Nitria, Kellia

Nitria itself probably lies under the modern village of el-Barnudj in the upper eastern delta. While an intense archaeological investigation might turn up bits and pieces of the establishment, our only real evidence of Nitria comes from documents. The Unknown author of the History of the Egyptian Monks (Historia Monachorum in Aegypto), perhaps Flavius Rufinus?) visited the area at the end of the fourth century. He tells us:

"Then we came to Nitria, the best-known of all monasteries of Egypt, about forty miles from Alexandria; it takes its name from a nearby town where Nitre is collected... In this place there are about fifty dwellings, or not many less, set near together and under one father. In some of them, there are many living together, in others a few and in some there are brothers who live alone. Through they are divided by their dwellings they remain bound together and inseparable in faith and love"

Another early visitor to the monastery was Palladius, who wrote Lausiac History (Historia Lausiaca), and who tells us that:

"I...crossed over to Mount Nitria. Between this mountain and Alexandria there lies a lake called Marea seventy miles long. I was a day and a half crossing this to the mountain on its southern shore. Beyond the mountain, stretches the great desert reaching as far as Ethiopia, Mazicae, and Mauritania. On the mountain live close to five thousand men following different ways of life, each as he can or will. Thus some live alone, others in pairs, and some in groups. There are seven bakeries on this mountain serving these men as well as the anchorites of the Great Desert, six hundred in all. ..On this mountain of Nitria there is a great church....The guesthouse is close to the church. Here the arriving guests is received until such time as he leaves voluntarily. He stays here all the time even for a period of two or three years. They allow a guest to remain at leisure for one week; from then on he must help in the garden, bakery, or kitchen. Should he be a noteworthy person, they give him a book, not allowing him to converse with anyone before the sixth hour. On this mountain there are doctors living, and also pastry cooks. They use wine, too, and wine is sold. All these work with their hands at making linen, so that none of them is in want. And indeed, along about the ninth hour one can stand and hear the divine psalmody issuing forth from each cell and imagine one is high above in paradise. They occupy the church on Saturdays and Sundays only. Eight priests have charge of the church; while the senior priest lives, none of the others celebrates or gives the sermon, but they simply sit quietly by him."

One wonders whether the figure of five thousand residents of this monastery might be somewhat exaggerated, but it is evident that the population was high, judging from the need to have seven assistant priests to assist the senior priest.

The fall of Nitria probably took place in the latter half of the seventh century. When the patriarch Benjamin I passed through the area on his way to Scetis (Wadi al-Natrun), Nitria was completely deserted. The sand and wind of the desert, and more recently, the reclamation and irrigation projects have erased the remains of this monastic settlement. However, at its peek, the overcrowding of the Nitria monastery apparently forced Amun to create a second region of settlements, which has survived to some extent, and is better known to us.

Kellia (Cellia, The Cells)

The Kellia, though not really all that well known to the general public, is perhaps one of the most important Christian archaeological sites in the world. These ruins inform us of the evolution of monastery life from its very roots through early maturity, giving us insights into both the monk's life and their early, but sophisticated Christian art.

It is from The Sayings of the Fathers (Apophtegmata Patrum) (Desert Fathers) that we learn of Kellia's founding:

"Abba Anthony once went to visit Abba Amun in Mount Nitria and when they met, Abba Amun said, 'By your prayers, the number of the brethren increases, and some of them want to build more cells where they may live in peace. How far away from here do you think we should build the cells? Abba Anthony said, "Let us eat at the ninth hour and then let us go out for a walk in the desert and explore the country.' So they went out into the desert and they walked until sunset and then Abba Anthony said, 'Let us pray and plant the cross here, so that those who wish to do so may build here. Then when those who remain there want to visit those who have come here, they can take a little food at the ninth hour and then come. If they do this, they will be able to keep in touch with each other without distraction of mind.'"

It is estimated that the founding of Kellia occurred in about 338 AD. Kellia (the Cells) is actually a huge area of monastic ruins located not for from Nitria on a straight line connecting Damanhur to Sadat City. Though considerable of these ruins have succumbed to the incursion of of agriculture and irrigation projects, there have been identified some sixteen hundred monastic settlements in an area of approximately one hundred square kilometers that were built over a period of less than three hundred years, beginning about the middle of the fourth century (and ending about the first of the seventh century). One must truly wonder about the extent of these ruins for their Koms (rubble hills) are spread amongst five primary areas, consisting of Qusur al-Rubaiyat, Qusur al-Izayla, Qusur Isa, Qusur al-Higayla, Qusur al-Arayma and Qasr Waheida. This archaeological site, first discovered by Professor Antoine Guillaumont of Paris in the spring of 1964 (excavation by a French-Swiss team followed under the direction of Professor Rodolphe Kasser of Geneva), extends some eleven kilometers in length and two kilometers in width. The ruins are reached by traveling out of Dilingat west over the bridge on the Nubariya Canal where one takes an unpaved road, just before the railroad tracks, to the right. The ruins begin only a few kilometers down this road.

Christian Nitria, Kellia

The Churches and Refectories

We find at Kellia what the Greeks refer to as ekklesia, an architectural ensemble essentially consisting of the buildings devoted to religious rites, primarily a church and refectory. At Qusur Isa and Qasr Waheida, archaeologists have unearthed two such complexes of particular interest.

In the first instance, at Qusur Isa 1, we find three churches consisting of a late fifth century structure with a transverse nave and a sanctuary with two adjacent rooms to the north and south, while another of about the same date as the first and one dating to the beginning of the seventh century have basilican plans with a nave, two side aisles, a sanctuary and two adjacent rooms. The two churches at Qasr al-Waheida both date to the fifth century and are in almost every respect the same as the basilicas of Qusur Isa 1. However, in the smaller church as Qasr Waheida, the side aisles are separated from the middle one by two series of three columns, while in the larger church the central nave is surrounded on three sides by an ambulatory delineated by sixteen columns.

Plan of a church at the  hermitage of Qusur al-Izayla 16 at Kellia, that dates to the second half  of the 7th century

While these churches are fairly ordinary for their time, they reveal to us, along with much evidence from the hermitages, the evolution of the early monk's way of life. We know, for example, that these complexes where the early monks came together on Saturdays and Sundays were eventually abandoned in favor of places of worship attached to the hermitages themselves, hence making the hermitages true monasteries, but also informing us that the monks were evolving towards a more communal life style.

The Hermitages


Perhaps most interesting is the evolution of the Kellia structures, not simply reflecting modernization over the three hundred year building span, but also the changes within the monastic community. Remains of the oldest, mid fourth through fifth century have simple, poor architectural elements consisting of tiny rooms and sometimes single cells, partially hollowed in the earth and covered by a vault. Spare lodging was sometimes provided within an enclosure wall. However, by the end of the fifth century, the hermitages become more elaborate, reflecting a change in the founders' conception of anchoritic life. After the fifth century, we find increased facilities to receive others, where once the dwellings were built to isolate their inhabitants. We see an evolution in the individual hermitages that first allow several monks shelter, and by the end of the seventh century, large rooms that might accommodate a small anchoritic colony. Clearly, the solitude of the lone monk in the early phase of Kellia gave way to the more practical characteristics of a semi-communal life.

Niches in a hermitage at Qusur al-Rubaiyat

Now, the mature hermitage is made up of a rectangular enclosure with walls that often measure thirty and twenty-five meters. These "living quarters" were mostly oriented in a practical manner, presenting one of the longest walls to the prevailing winds which usually came from the north or northeast. Most of the living quarters were then located in the northwest of the enclosure, with a large courtyard oriented to the southeast of the living quarters, where there was often located a well and a latrine near the southeast corner of the enclosure. The entrance to the small complex would then be located within the southern wall. The interior was protected from this portal by a vestibule inside the wall.

The ground plan of a fairly mature mermitage at Kellia

While the very early hermitages may have had room for at most an elder and his disciple, by the seventh century the living quarters of these small complexes consisted of separate communal and private areas. The communal part of the living quarters might usually consist of an anteroom, a vestibule where visitors might be received, but where also manual indoor work could be performed, a pantry storage area and a kitchen.

An artist's impression of a fairly mature mermitage at Kellia

The private area of the hermitage usually contained the the elder's apartment, consisting of a large room for prayer which would have had walls with niches, particularly the east wall, that might be elegantly decorated, perhaps a much smaller addition to the prayer room, and a relatively small room for sleeping. There was also usually a separate area for the elder's disciple, consisting of a single cell comprising one room where he both slept and prayed. However, here to the east wall often had a niche adorned with the traditional painted cross. Both the elder's apartment and the disciple's cell usually had a recess that was probably used for storage, such as lamps, books and tools for work. Both the communal and private rooms were covered by a vault, with small high windows to allow a little light and fresh air. In addition, there were also small, cylindrical openings between rooms, shaped like the neck of an amphora and sometimes lined with ceramics, which provided both ventilation and communication between rooms.

In the evolution of the Kellia hermitages, they eventually became true monasteries when the separate church complexes were abandoned in favor of places of worship actually attached to the individual hermitages. Towards the end of the Kellia occupation, we begin to see hermitages with large halls and two bays, to the east of which was a sanctuary. At Qusur al-Izayla, we find at hermitages 16 and 45 very typical examples of monastic churches. Specifically, these two hermitages underwent considerable modifications over a period of time, which necessitated the enlargement of the enclosure wall as well as substantial modifications in the living quarters.

A hermitage at Qusur al-Rubaiyat at Kellia

At both Qusur al-Rubaiyat and Qusur al-Izaya, we also find interesting examples of refectories that date from the second half of the seventh century. These refectories actually have the same architecture as the hermitage churches, with two or three bays, each roofed with a cupola. They may be distinguished from the churches by the bases of the tables used at meals in each bay, while the churches have the presence of the base of an altar on the east end.

As might be expected in a country with few trees, only the doors of the hermitages were made of wood, while the remaining structure was built mostly of earth, usually in the form of unbaked mudbrick. Mudbrick structures were built throughout Egypt and from very ancient times was a primary building material in secular construction, as well as some religious buildings. However, most of the mudbrick constructs in the Nile Valley quickly fell into ruin. In the desert, these building fair better, and in the case of the Kellia, even though the brick was unbaked, it is of a particularly fine quality. The presence of water a few meters under the sand and the rocky material called gebal in Arabic, which is composed of extremely fine particles and more granular components bonded by mineral salts creates an ideal condition for the stability of these bricks in a dry climate. Interestingly, a strict code seems to have been applied to the size of the bricks, which were always either 20 x 40 x 7 or 40 x 40 x 7 centimeters. Other materials, such as stone and ceramics, were imported and used for such purposes as water pipes and ornamentation applied to vaults and arches.

Decoration (formal)

As one might imagine in so many hermitages covering such a large area, we are furnished with an extraordinarily rich documentation on Coptic Christian painting from its infancy until the seventh century. Technically, the surface of the mudbricks were coated with a thin egg based coating which was then carefully smoothed and left to dry. However, and unfortunate aspect of this thin base is that, when unearthed by archaeologists, the paintings quickly disintegrate. Mineral pigments were used as paint, mixed with lime or another type of stabilizing binder such as casein to produce a variety of colors such as ocher, green, black, white and sometimes, though rarely, blue. They used these primary colors to produce others such as red, purple, yellow, brown and gray. White and black were used in an elegant manner to give luminosity and transparency to figures.

An Example of an ornately painted cross

The work was extraordinary, offering an exceptionally varied iconography ranging from sophisticated use of colors to suggest architectural elements such as fluted columns and pilasters, composite capitals, apses in the shape of shells, marble and alabaster to depictions such as biblical scenes, figures of saints and monk as well as Christ and innumerable types of crosses. Crosses were shown in forms such as the tree of life, represented as gold candlesticks or adorned with precious stones or wreathed with leaves and flowers and sometimes ornamented with lamps and censers. In addition to architectural elements and spiritual scenes, we also find representations of animals such as gazelles, camels, sheep, rabbits, snakes, crocodiles, hippopotamuses, doves, peacocks, roosters, fish, horses, donkey and lions, as well as fantastic creatures including unicorns and chimeras. However, most of these animals seem to have had a spiritual significance. For example, the peacock, whose flesh is regarded as incorruptible and whose plumage is renewed every year, was a symbol of resurrection. The dove was a messenger of peace, while more ominous animals such as the lion and crocodile were feared and associated with evil. We also find many depictions of boats, which in the ancient Christian world, were a symbol of faith and of the church, but we should not overlook their more ancient pharaonic use as a vehicle for passage into the afterlife.

A cross painted in an eastern niche of a hermitage at Kellia

Decoration (Informal - Wall Inscriptions)

While outside references provide us with some indication of the life of Kellia monks, along with the evolution of the architecture, it is from the wall inscriptions that we derive much of our knowledge. These epigraphical witnesses are invaluable to us. They not only allow us to study monastic life, but are also the oldest Bohairic text which as the Coptic Christian dialect of the delta region. They are particularly important to us because the ancient manuscripts, owning to the humid climate of this area, have not survived.

A funerary inscription in Coptic written by a monk named Elijah.

Monasticism expanded rapidly in the seventh century before (and at the beginning of) the Arab occupation of Egypt, and most of the inscriptions at Kellia date from that period and the beginning of the eighth century. Many of the inscriptions can be dated. Some reference a patriarch of Alexandria allowing us to place in at least their reign, while others reference the era of the martyrs (the year Diocletian, the last great persecutor of Christians acceded to the throne), a dating system which appeared in 284 AD. Still others reference Byzantine emperors such as Justinian (527-565 AD), or the current Arab ruler of Egypt.

An inscription referencing a presbyteros, which would have been an elder or priest, named George. It endwith the amen.

A few inscriptions were more formal legends that labeled the religious paintings. As an example, the one which customarily accompanied the cross, generally written in Greek as Jesus Christos Nika may be translated as "Jesus Christ, be victorious".

However, the inscriptions can most frequently be found in the vestibule where visitors and pilgrims where welcomed. They are almost always inscribed with red ocher, though sometimes also in black, with the handwriting style varying considerably. Some work is obviously that of learned scribes or copyists, carefully written in a manner not unlike that found in manuscripts of this period. Other inscriptions are more course, and probably the work of simple monks.

Most of these inscriptions are funerary in nature, honoring a dead colleague and usually taking a formalized code such as "Our blessed Brother (name of monk) son of (name of father) native of (town or area) fell asleep on (day) day of the month of (month) at (hour) hour. Remember him and may the Lord Jesus Christ grant rest to his soul at the same time as to the saints and all those who belong to him. Amen."

The Life of the Monks

The Daily Life of the Monks

Certainly at first, Kellia was a place not inhabited by novice monks. The History of the Egyptian Monk tells us that:

"beyond this (Nitria) there is another place, the inner desert, about ten miles away. This is called Cellia because of the number of cells there, scattered about the desert. Those who have already begun their training there (that is, in Nitria) and want to live a more remote life, stripped of external things, withdraw there. For this is the utter desert and the cells are divided from one another by so great a distance that no one can see his neighbor nor can any voice be heard. They live alone in their cells and there is a huge silence and a great quiet there. Only on Saturday and Sunday do they meet in church".

He goes on to tell us that the death of a monk is often discovered only by their absence from church. This passage describes more the initial stages of Kellia, as well as anchoritic life at Nitria, but the monks seem to have never developed into the rigorously cenobitic structure of the monasticism of St. Pachomius in upper Egypt (the most communal form of monasticism). Rather, it was patterned on the more fundamentally anchoritic (secluded) spirit of Anthony's monasticism, thus confirming the relationship between Amun, Kellia's founder and Anthony of Egypt's Eastern Desert, thought Kellia obviously grew more communal over time.

Life in the hermitages seems to have taken a balanced approach between anchoritic and communal life, being more "cooperative communities" of anchorites where the mutual obligations were considerably restricted and individual freedoms were mostly unlimited (as a whole), rather than having the more codified rules of a more cenobitic settlement.

Originally, the monks spent the week in their own cells, praying and producing crafts to trade for food, only coming together on Saturday and Sundays in their churches for the synaxis (assembly). Initially, a hermitage was occupied by a single monk, but as these monks grew old, some would take one or two younger brothers into their cells who would then act as disciples and servants. In this setting, less advanced monks practiced the ascetic life under the tutelage of a more experienced master. Thus when a novice asked Abba Paisios what he should do to fear God, he was told, "Go, and join a man who fears God, and live near him; he will teach you, too, to fear God."

Given this style of anchoritic, everyone enjoyed the freedom to organize their own lives within their hermitage (within reason), though soon, traditions were established that would effect some standardization. Prayer was the most important occupation of the day, but monks would also rise in the middle of the night to celebrate the "little synaxis", offering prayer while standing with arms raised and facing the east. Of course, this is why their was a niche on the east wall with a representation of a cross.

As the sun rose, the monks would begin their daily work, usually consisting of crafts such as making baskets, ropes or mats, since this work could be performed in solitude. Furthermore, while weaving either palms or reeds into these products, the monk could recite a short prayer called a melete (meditation) in a low voice, such as "Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me; O Lord, make haste to help me" (Ps 40:13) Regardless of the monks work, it was handed over to a steward each week who would then exchange these good for food an any other necessities that the monk might require.

Other, better educated monks were scribes who worked to copy sacred texts, which was then either sold, perhaps bartered to other brothers, or provided to the communal ekklesia. One of the most famous of these was a native of Cappadocia named Evagrius Ponticus. This former disciple of St Basil and St. Gregory Nazianzus was reported by Palladius in his Lausiac History to have retired to Kellia after spending two years in Nitria and to have:

"...lived there for two years, and in the third year he went off to the desert. Then he lived there fourteen years in the so-called Cellia, eating but a pound of bread [a day], and a pint of oil in the space of three months, and he was a man who had been delicately raised in a refined and fastidious manner of life. He composed one hundred prayers, and he wrote during the year only the price of as much as he ate... Then he drew up three holy books for monks - Controversies they were called - on the arts to be used against demons."

Around noon (actually the sixth hour, which began the hottest time of the day), the work of the monks was interrupted for rest, and the monks traditionally devoted the ninth hour to their meal.

Normally, the food was limited to a single pound (three hundred grams) of bread, which was then softened in water and perhaps seasoned with a little salt and at times, a drop of oil. Those who were very old, or sick, were also allowed some raw or cooked vegetables. The only fluid which was allowed was water.

After this meal, the monks would either return to work or perhaps visit a colleague who was sick or old in order to bring succor, or receive spiritual advice. Interestingly, the love of neighbors took priority over fasting and charity required the monks to respect the rites of hospitality. The proper monk made himself available to visitors, washing their feet and offering them food kept especially for such occasions. This might include lentils or other boiled vegetables. This meal would be enjoyed by both host and visitor regardless of the hour.

Later in the evening, the monks would recite the Vespers, sometimes along but at other times with neighboring monks, after which they would retire to their cells and a bed of palms or a mat.

The monks assembled for Vespers (an evening service) which was celebrated in the church on Saturday evenings. This service consisted of a dozen psalms. The monks would then be allowed a few hours rest before the great liturgy began which would last into the early morning hours of Sunday. This also included the recitation of psalms and the celebration of the Eucharist, during which the monks would receive communion of both bread and wine. After the liturgy was finished, the anchorites would then break their fast with a common meal called the agape, which was served in the refectory (agapeion). The assembly of the monks ended on Sunday morning after which they returned to their own hermitage which might be as far as five or six kilometers away.

The concept of the refectory is interesting, and helps define the concept of the ekklesia, which is a Greek term. The agape, which in Greek means "love" or "charity", helped bond the monks to one another. It must have been a fine time for these anchorites for they were allowed to converse during a good meal which, unlike during the week, could even include a limited quantity of wine. All of our textual documentation states that this meal was taken in the "church" where the Eucharist was celebrated, but in fact, archaeological evidence demonstrates that it was served in the adjacent room called a refectory and built specifically for this purpose. Hence, the ancient writers did not simply use the term, ekkesia, to include the church proper, but the complex as a whole including the refectory, the storage areas and the kitchens.

Besides the monks, priests must have certainly been present due to the celebration of the Eucharist. We know of a few such priests, such as Macarius of Alexandria, who apparently retired to the desert when he was about 40 years old. While these priests must have exercised a certain amount of authority at Kellia, there role was probably limited mostly to religious services, and presiding over the council of elders who periodically met to discuss communal affairs as well as punish the monks who had committed a very serious sin. However, this must have been very limited, because here, there were no formal written rules or vows to which the monks were bound.

Other support personal would have included clerics to assist the monks during the liturgical functions and stewards to handle common possessions and facilitate the exchange of the monk's weekly work for food produced by nearby secular communities.

It is clear from the abandonment of the communal churches in favor of those attached to hermitages which were themselves expanded, that there was a gradual move towards a closer communal life among the monks. How far this might have gone is unknown, for Kellia was eventually abandoned around the beginning of the eighth century, with only a few hermitages remaining for a short time into the early Islamic period. Later, the buildings were used by nomads as temporary shelter, but eventually the sand covered this large area so completely (thus preserving the paintings and inscriptions) that not until 1964 were the ruins finally identified.

The Piety of the Monks

One cannot talk of the life of these monks of Kellia without pointing out the piety they lived by. They seemed to have worn their spiritualism as armor against a cruel life, and it is impossible to ignore a certain pride in their abstinence. However, their remarkable holiness was certainly admired by others, for it is often stories of self imposed hardships in the name of piety that are given to us by the ancient writers.

For example, Palladius is said to have spent some nine years with the hermits of Kellia, and he tells us many stories about these monks and priests. Interestingly, Palladius states that he feared that nobody would believe some of his stories because the austerities practiced by these solitaries were incredibly severe. Marcarius the Alexandrian is perhaps the best known priest to us who lived at Kellia, and Palladius tells us that one day he was stung by a gnat and so he swatted and killed the bug. Believing that he had acted out of revenge, he is said to have sat in a marsh for six months, and was bitten so badly that his swollen form could only be identified by his voice. Another way these hermits proved their asceticism was by sleeping as little as possible, and so Palladius also tells us that Marcarius spent an entire season of Lent on his feet, day and night, and during that time subsisted on nothing but cabbage leaves.

Others, such as a monk named Ptolemy, found Cellia a little too comfortable, or at least somewhat overcrowded, and therefore went to live beyond Scete (Wadi al-Natrun) in a very hostile place. For fifteen years, we are told that he lived eighteen miles away from a well and collected dew from the rocks with a sponge when he ran out of water. Many monks also prided themselves on not bathing, since the baths, particularly in large cities, were thought to be places of immorality by the Christians. They heralded moral cleanliness above physical.

Some of this piety, however, seems to have actually involved a certain amount of "one-up-manship". For example, when Macarius heard of a monk who ate only a pound of bread a day (the amount we are told elsewhere was the normal ration), he vowed to eat only whatever morsel of his biscuit he could reach from a narrow necked jar. He continued to do this for three years, consuming the equivalent of five ounces of bread and water a day.

It would seem though that this "one-up-manship" was both understood and embraced, for Palladius also tells us of his trip to Nitria:

"We also visited Nitria where we saw many great anchorites, some native born, some foreign. They rivalled each other in virtue, living their lives with great zeal, each of them trying to outdo the others."

Return to Christian Monasteries of Egypt






Reference Number

2000 Years of Coptic Christianity

Meinardus, Otto F. A.


American University in Cairo Press, The

ISBN 977 424 5113

Christian Egypt: Coptic Art and Monuments Through Two Millennia

Capuani, Massimo


Liturgical Press, The

ISBN 0-8146-2406-5

Churches and Monasteries of Egypt and Some Neigbouring Countries, The

Abu Salih, The Armenian, Edited and Translated by Evetts, B.T.A.


Gorgias Press

ISBN 0-9715986-7-3

Last Updated: June 22nd, 2011