Egypt: Historical Christian Egyptian Sites

Historical Christian Egyptian Sites

For additional comprehensive information see Monuments in Egypt

Abu Mina, the Ancient Pilgrimage Site by Jimmy Dunn

Abu Mina, near Alexandria, is an amazing ancient Christian site which attracted, during the 5th & 6th centuries, Europeans and Egyptians alike, with one of the largest churches in ancient Egypt.

Ancient Christian Churches by Jimmy Dunn

Before Egypt became an Islamic state, it was a mostly Christian country with an ancient Christian heritage. It was a land where Jesus and his family were known to have traveled, and where early Apostles came to spread his word, particularly at first in Alexandria. Most of the ancient Christian churches of Egypt, contrary to what many travelers may believe, are not located in Old, or Coptic Cairo. What makes Old Cairo special is the fact that a number of ancient churches are located in the area, making visits by tourists convenient, since most of them arrive for tours in that city.

The Monastery of Saint Bishoy by Jimmy Dunn

The ancient Monastery of Saint Bishoy in the Wadi el-Natrun is one of the most significant of the four major monasteries located there, though not the largest, being one of the original ones with some excellent examples of early architecture and art.

A History of St. Catherine's Monastery In Egypt's Sinai by John Watson

The Monastery of St. Catherine, also known as the Monastery of the Transfiguration, is located in a triangular area between the Desert of El-Tih, the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba in the Sinai. It is situated at an altitude of 4854 feet in a small, picturesque gorge. It is a region of wilderness made up of granite rock and rugged mountains which, at first glance, seems inaccessible. In fact, while small towns and villages have grown up on the shores of the two gulfs, only a few Bedouin nomads roam the mountains and arid land inland. Well known mountains dominate this region, including Mount Sinai (2,285 meters), Mount St. Catherine (2,637 meters), Mount Serbal (2,070 meters) and Mount Episteme.

The Icons of St. Catherine's Monastery In Egypt's Sinai (Including Icon Gallery) by John Watson

The Monastery of St. Catherine in Egypt's Sinai is a wonderful place to visit, interesting in every respect, but it is not famous throughout the world simply for its facilities nestled up against the foot of Mount Sinai. The monastery has one of the largest collections of ancient illuminated manuscripts in the world, as well as one of the most important collections of icons. Here, we will examine the icons, which number over 2,000, large and small, some unique masterpieces while others are simple works of art. They are spread throughout the complex, with some in the Katholikon, the chapels, the icon gallery, the sacristy and even in the monks' cells.

The Physical Components of the Monastery of Saint Catherine in the Sinai of Egypt by John Watson

The physical components of the Monastery of St. Catherine vary considerable in age, dating from the 6th century right up to the present day, though most structures in the monastery enclosure are older. For example, the newest structure within the compound itself is probably the north wing, built in 1951 to house the Library, the Icon Gallery and the new refectory for the monks, as well as the apartments of the Archbishop of St. Catherine. The bell tower is somewhat older, dating to the 18th century. Most other buildings are considerably older. On the outside of the compound, the visitor's center is a fairly recent addition.

Other Chapels and Ruins near the Monastery of Saint Catherine in the Sinai of Egypt by John Watson

Many people who visit St. Catherine's Monastery are unaware of many of the other interesting religious and other sites within the southern Sinai, as well as the region's natural wonders. Specifically, this area of the Sinai has a history, beginning with the Jewish Exodus, as an important religious center with visible ruins that date back considerably prior to the establishment of the Monastery of St. Catherine. Of course, anyone visiting the monastery is aware that it is situated at the foot of Mount Sinai, but there are a number of other locations that are also worth knowing about and visiting in the region.

Gallery of Artifacts in the Monastery of St. Catherine Collection by John Watson

In addition to Icons, The Monastery of St. Catherine owns a number of artifacts dating back to various periods. Of course, the largest collection of these are various manuscripts in its library, but there are also tapestries and other objects that cover a vast span of time. In this last of our series of articles on the Monastery of St. Catherine in the Egyptian Sinai, we provide a small pictorial of some of the more important items in their collection of various artifacts.

Christian Antinoopolis (Antinoe, or Ansina) and its Environs by Jimmy Dunn

At Antinoe we find ruins of temples dating back to the reigns of Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) and Ramesses II, as well as tombs from the New Kingdom, so the area was obviously populated prior to the time of the Roman era. Yet, inhabited primarily by Greeks and Romans, it's importance certainly peaked during the era when Roman ruled Egypt, and it became the capital of the Thebaid.

Christian Oxyrhynchus (modern al-Bahnasa) and its Environs by Jimmy Dunn

Oxyrhynchus (meaning sharp-nosed fish) was the main city within the nineteenth nome (province) during Egypt's Pharaonic Period. In ancient times, it was called per-meged (Per-medjed) and Pemje by the Coptic Christians. It played an interesting role in Egyptian mythology and was given the name Oxyrhynchus during the Roman period because of the local worship of a Nile fish by that name (a form of pike).

St. Antony's Monastery by Jimmy Dunn

St. Antony's Monastery, which lies at the foot of Al-Qalzam Mountain near Al Zaafarana, was founded in 356 AD just after the saints death and is the oldest active monastery in the world.. We do know that St. Antony founded several monasteries during his life (though they would not have been recognizable in the modern use of the term), but alas they are no more. During the sixth and seventh centuries many monks from Wadi Natroun who were under frequent attacks by Bedouins migrated to St. Antony's.

The Mopnastery of Apa Bane (Deir Abu Fana, or the Monastery of the Cross) by Jimmy Dunn

In a certain sense, an examination of the Christian Monastery of Apa Bane (Deir Abu Fana) provides us with some interesting insights to Egypt's desert fathers. Much is reported about their piety, and to such an extent that one questions the accuracy of ancient texts. We further learn that Apa Bane was born to a wealthy family of Memphis (near modern Cairo), but withdrew to the desert near al-Ashmunain to live the life of an anchorite after being inspired by hermits he visited in the Western Desert.

The Monastery of al-Baramus (Deir al-Baramus, Monastery of the Romans) At Wadi al-Natrun by Jimmy Dunn

In the Wadi al-Natrun, certainly one of the most famous regions in Egypt associated with Christian monasteries, the northernmost of the four communities is that of the Monastery of al-Baramus. It is also sometimes called the Monastery of the Romans and is very probably the first monastery established in the Wadi al-Natrun. In fact, it is said to occupy the place where Macarius the Great settled in 340 (or as early as 330) when he devoted himself to monastic life.

The Monastery of Apollo at Bawit by Jimmy Dunn

Anyone who visits the Coptic (Christian) Museum in Cairo will soon become familiar with a location known as Bawit, because there is considerable art from this ancient Monastery within the Museum. The Monastery itself is located in the desert, facing the fertile plain, about fifteen kilometers from Dairut, north of Aysut (Assiut). Bawit is actually an ancient, deserted monastery known as the Monastery of St. Apollo (Deir Abu Abullu). Its name probably comes from the Coptic term, Auht, which means "assembly", "congregation", or "Monastery".

The Monastery of the Archangel Gabriel at Naqlun near the Fayoum by Jimmy Dunn

The Monastery of Archangel Gabriel (or Dair al-Malak Ghubriyal, Deir al-Malak Ghubriyal, Deir al-Naqlun), which is of fairly modest dimensions and occupies only a part of the original settlement, nevertheless is certainly one of the oldest Coptic Christian monasteries in the Fayoum region of Egypt, dating from perhaps as early as the 6th or 7th century. In fact, a few architectural elements within its oldest church (particularly the foundation, which probably dates from the second half of the 5th century) might predate this to even an earlier period. In various histories of the Fayoum Monasteries, it is referred to simply as the Monastery of Naqlun.

The History of the Bahariya Oasis by Jimmy Dunn

Over time, the Bahariya Oasis has had a number of different names. It has been called the Northern Oasis, the Little Oasis, Zeszes, Oassis Parva and the especially during the Christian era, the Oasis of al-Bahnasa, along with various other names. At one time, the Bahariya Oasis, as well as most of the rest of what is today referred to as the Western (or Libyan) Desert, was the floor of an immense ocean. Yet from about 3000 BC until the present, almost no rainfall graces this part of the world, so groundwater is its life blood.

Church of Saint Barbara (Sitt Barbara) by Jimmy Dunn

We are told that Saint Barbara was a beautiful young lady possibly of Asia Minor decent (though some stories say she lived in Heliopolis). She apparently lived during the early part of the 4th century (though again some references place her in the early part of the 3rd century). She was the daughter of a wealthy nobleman and merchant, Djoscorus, who was a pagan. Tradition provides that Djoscorus built a magnificent tower to safeguard his daughter, perhaps from the growing influence of Christianity. However, during his frequent business trips abroad, she was converted to Christianity.

The Churches and Convents of Harat Zuwaila in Old Cairo by Jimmy Dunn

Almost everyone, it would seem, who embarks on a standard tour of Egypt will venture into Old or Coptic Cairo and will gain some experience with the churches of Fort Babylon. Yet there are many important churches and monasteries outside that district, though not so far away, and example of which is the area of Zuwaila in the district known as Al-Khurinfish (Khurunfish, al-Qurunfish) in the Fatimid section of Cairo near Al-Muski off Shari Bain al-Surain. Here, we find the ruins of an old monastery, some important churches, along with a several more modern monastery (or convents).

Christian Churches and Monasteries of Luxor and the West Bank by Jimmy Dunn

Many western tourists who have an interest in archaic Christian monuments, even though they may be taking a classical pharaonic tour, will visit the famous old churches in Coptic (Old) Cairo. There was a fairly large community of Christians during that era of Egypt's history both at Thebes (modern Luxor) and on the West Bank across the river. Some of the ruins are among the oldest to be found in Egypt, dating from the 4th century, and indeed, a see was established at Thebes probably before 325 and the Council of Nicaea.

The Monastery of Jeremiah at Saqqara by Jimmy Dunn

One of the easiest ancient Christian monasteries that one may visit in Egypt is the that of St. Jeremiah, because of its location in at Saqqara, the largest known ancient necropolis in Egypt, which is a common stop on most tours. Saqqara, home to the famous Step Pyramid of Djoser, is only about fifteen kilometers from the great Pyramids of Giza located on the outskirts of Cairo. The Monastery of St. Jeremiah is situated in the southern part of the necropolis about five hundred meters from the Step Pyramid.

Christian Nitria, Kellia and the Life of their Ancient Monks by Jimmy Dunn

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. Much less familiar to us, because they are now ruins, are the ancient monasteries of Nitria and Kellia near the western Delta, yet they are very significant monuments to early Christianity.

Christian Ruins in the Kharga Oasis by Jimmy Dunn

While Egypt's Eastern Desert is very famous for its several well known Monasteries, including that of Saint Anthony and Saint Paul, Egypt's Western Oasis served both as a remote haven for early Christians and Kharga specifically, as a place where Christian church leaders were sometimes banished when their views were considered to be unacceptable. Today we may find some of Egypt's earliest Christian monuments in the remote regions, and because of the dry climate, often in a decent state of preservation.

The Christian Village of Dair Abu Hinnis and the Churches of Saint John the Short by Jimmy Dunn

One of the stops along the route of the Holy Family in Egypt, according to tradition, is the village of Dair Abu Hinnis near Malawi, which lies a few kilometers south of the ruins of Antinoe. Today, this is primarily a Christian town with about 22,000 inhabitants. Though there are three Orthodox and two Evangelical churches located here, the most important place related to the Holy Family is Kom Maria ("the hill of Maria"), only a slight elevation of sand just outside the village.

The Coptic Museum in Cairo by Seif Kamel

The Coptic Museum has been closed for some time, being renovated, but it has reopened and is, of course, one of Cairo's major museums, as well as a great place to learn Christian history.

The History of the Dakhla Oasis by Jimmy Dunn

If Kharga is the administrative center of Egypt's New Valley, than the Dakhla Oasis would be its breadbasket. It is a very lush region brimming with orchards and produce, and this is nothing new, for 10,000 years ago, when the climate here was similar to that of the African Savanna, it was teaming with buffaloes, elephants, rhinos, zebras, ostriches and hartebeests. There was a vast lake here, and on its southern shores were also human communities. However, as with most of the rest of the Western Desert, this wet era passed, and with it many of the people mostly migrated south and to the east, where they helped populate the early Nile Valley, as the sands slowly covered their ancient way of life.

The History of the Farafra Oasis by Jimmy Dunn

Of those with an interest in Egypt, and particularly the Western Oasis, the Farafra is probably one of the least known Oasis. It is actually one of the most difficult Oasis to reach and offered the pharaohs, caliphs and kings very little, though it seem to be on the way to everywhere. In ancient times, we believe that the Farafra experienced three specific wet phases, in about 9000 BC, 6000 BC and 4500 BC.

The Monastery and Church of St. George in Old Cairo by Jimmy Dunn

The image of St George as a Roman soldier mounted on a fine Arabian horse and spearing a dragon is a familiar one throughout Old Cairo, where there are two facilities dedicated to him. Throughout the Christian East, Saint George is undoubtedly the most popular warrior-saint, and in the Coptic churches of Cairo there are now more than twenty relics of the equestrian saint. The Coptic biography of Saint George does not mention his flight with and victory over the dragon. Hence, scholars believe that around the fourteenth century this theme was a transferal from the biography of St. Theodore Stratelates to Saint George, though it is also possible that the Copts adopted this tale from the Western Christians.

The Hanging Church: El Muallaqa, Dedicated to the Virgin Mary by Jimmy Dunn

The Hanging Church (El Muallaqa, Sitt Mariam, St Mary) derives its name from its location on top of the southern tower gate of the old Babylon fortress (in Old, or Coptic Cairo) with its nave suspended above the passage (Muallaqa translates to 'suspended'). It is the most famous Coptic Christian church in Cairo, as well as the first built in Basilcan style (possibly).

The Church of the Holy Virgin in Babylon Al-Darag by Jimmy Dunn

The Church of the Holy Virgin in Babylon Al-Darag (Babylon of the Steps, or the Steps of Babylon), a Christian church, is located just south of the ancient Babylon Fortress in Old Cairo. It is situated south of the village of Qasr al-Sham' and also beyond the bridge across the Old Cairo-Muqattam highway. It is conveniently reached by traveling along Sharia Athar Al-Nabi turning left and crossing the Cairo-Helwan railway tracks. The church dates from the 11th Century.

The Church of the Holy Virgin at Gabal al-Tayr near Minya by Jimmy Dunn

Considered one of the most beautiful in Egypt, the Church of the Holy Virgin at Gabal al-Tayr (Gebel al-Tair, Dair al-Adhra, Deir al-Adra, Gebal al-Kaff) is also sometimes known as the Monastery (or Convent) of the Pulley (Deir al-Baqara), because originally one entered the monastery from the base of the cliff up a crevice in the rock by means of a pulley. This Christian church stands on the east bank of the Nile some forty kilometers north of the Minya Bridge in Middle Egypt.

The Monastery of the Holy Virgin in the Fayoum near Luhan by Jimmy Dunn

The Fayoum remains today a microcosm of archaic Egypt, with temples and pyramids, together with representative monuments from both the Christian and early Islamic periods. Settled many Greeks in late antiquity, the Fayoum became a major holdout during the Christian period and there are a number of important monasteries in the region, including the 7th century Monastery of the Archangle Gabriel and the Monastery of St. Samuel. Another is the Monastery of the Holy Virgin, sometimes called the Monastery of Anba Ishaq (Father Isaac, Deir Abu Ishaq), the Monastery of the Dove, or Deir al-Hamam (Hammam)

The Monastery of St. Macarius (Deir Abu Magar) by Jimmy Dunn

Deir Abu Magar, also called Deir Anba Makaryus was probably the first monastery in the Wadi al-Natrun.. In the 6th century, the Byzantine rulers mandated that the Coptic Patriarchs no longer reside in Alexandria and so Deir Abu Magar acquired a new importance as the seat of the Coptic church. It remained an important monastery throughout the ages.

The Monastery of the Maryrs by Jimmy Dunn

On the desert ridge about six km northeast of Akhmim (seven km south of the Greco-Roman Temple of Khnum at Esna there are three monasteries. The northern one near as-Salamuni is dedicated to the Angel Michael, the central one to the Martyrs and the southern monastery to the Holy Virgin. The monastery of the Martyrs lies about one kilometer from the road connecting Esna and Edfu. The Monastery of the Martyrs (Dair as-Shuhada') is situated on an elevation at the edge of the desert east of al-Hawawish.

St. Mary, Monastery of (Deir Dronka) by Jimmy Dunn

About 10 kilometers from Assiut, situated on the west bank of the Nile is not only one of the most unusual monasteries in Egypt, but is also believed to have been one of the last destinations visited by the Holy Family on their journey through Egypt.

The Monastery of Saint Matthew the Potter by Jimmy Dunn

Saint Matthew the Potter, an early Egyptian Christian, was originally from Bishnai, and apparently received his early training as a monk in the Church of the Holy Virgin of al-Maqbabat. From there he went to Esna (Isna) in Middle Egypt, and later on to Asfun, where he is said to have founded the monastic community we know today as the Monastery of Saint Matthew the Potter (Deir al-Fakhuri) at Naq 'al-Zinaiqa.

The Egyptian Christian Monasteries near Naqada by Jimmy Dunn

It would seem that everywhere one travels in Egypt to visit the most ancient monuments, if they have a desire, they may also explore archaic Christian facilities. Naqada, not to far north of Luxor (ancient Thebes), was an important region during the pharaonic period, where a vast necropolis may be found. However, it is also of interest to students of Christian antiquities. Here, the desert was once inhabited by famous anchorites such as Elias of Mount Bishwaw and Samuel of Mount Banhadab.

The Church of Saint Menas in Old Cairo & the Annexed Churches of Saint Bahnam and Saint George by Jimmy Dunn

Today, probably the best known ancient site associated with Saint Menas is the ancient monastery between Alexandria and the Natron Valley, which has recently been given World Heritage status. However, one of the oldest Churches in Cairo is also dedicated to him. This church is north of Old Cairo, situated in an area known as Fum al-Khalig

The Church of Saint Mercurius in Old Cairo by Jimmy Dunn

Just to the north of the Fortress of Babylon in Old Cairo lies a group of important churches, and within the area known as the Abu Sayfayn Cloister is to be found three churches and a convent. One of these churches, dedicated to Saint Mercurius, is the largest in the district of ancient Babylon. It is perhaps also the only one to stand on its original foundation.

The Monastery of St. Paul In Egypt's Eastern Desert by Jimmy Dunn

Egypt's Eastern Desert, at least for now, provides us little in the way of antiquities for travelers. Pharaonically, there are a few trade routes and other ruins. However, it is the home to two of Egypt's best known Christian monuments which include the well known monastery of St. Anthony (Antonios) and perhaps the less well known Monastery of St. Paul of Thebes. The Monastery of St. Paul probably dates to the fifth century.

The Monastery at Qubbat Al-Hawa The Other Monastery at Aswan by Jimmy Dunn

One of the best known monasteries, and a frequent stop on most tours that stop in Aswan in far Upper Egypt, is Deir Anba Simaan also known as Deir Anba Hadra (Hatre), but best known as the Monastery of St. Simeon. For many tourists, a visit to this monastery may constitute the only camel ride while in Egypt. However, there is another monastery in the general vicinity of Aswan, and in fact conveniently located in the area of the pharaonic Tombs of the Nobles midway between the summit of a hill at Qubbat al-Hawa and the Nile River.

The Red Monastery (Deir al-Ahmar, Deir Anba Bishoi or Bishai) by Jimmy Dunn

We know almost nothing of the history of the Red Monastery (Deir al-Ahmar, Deir Anba Bishoi or Bishai) near Sohag, though it is one of the most famous Christian monasteries in Egypt. It lies about three kilometers north of the White Monastery at the extreme western edge of the cultivated land. However, unlike the White Monastery it is situated within a small village, and some houses lie to the south and east. The area to the north and west of the monastery is mainly covered with debris. Its name is derived from the color of its construction material, consisting of red (burnt) brick, of its outside walls, which distinguishes it from its nearby neighbor, the White Monastery which is made of stone.

The Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus (Abu Serga) by Jimmy Dunn

The Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus (Abu Serga) is a 4th century church and today is considered to be the oldest of Cairo's Christian churches. It is dedicated to two early martyrs and traditionally believed to have been built on the spot where the Holy Family, Joseph, Mary and the infant Christ, rested at the end of their journey into Egypt. They may have lived here while Joseph worked at the fortress. Hence, the church is of significant historical importance, and in fact, it is where many patriarchs of the Coptic Church were elected.

St. Simeon Monastery (Monastery of Anba Hatre) by Jimmy Dunn

Those on a fairly standard tour of Egypt that includes the Aswan area will most likely visit St. Simeon (Deir Anba Sim'an), the monastery otherwise known as Anba Hatre. It is very likely that this will also include their one substantial camel ride (about 15 minutes), which is how these ruins, located some one thousand two hundred meters from the west bank oppose the southern tip of the island of Elephantine, are usually accessed. The monastery was given the name St. Simeon by archaeologists and travelers, but earlier Arabic and Coptic sources called it Anba Hatre (Hidra, Hadri, Hadra), after an anchorite who was consecrated a bishop of Syene (now Aswan)

The History of the Siwa Oasis by Jimmy Dunn

Siwa, like the other Western Oasis, has had a number of different names over the millenniums. It was called Santariya by the ancient Arabs, as well as the Oasis of Jupiter-Amun, Marmaricus Hammon, the Field of Palm Trees and Santar by the ancient Egyptians.. We believe it was occupied as early as Paleolithic and Neolithic times, and some believe it was the capital of an ancient kingdom that may have included Qara, Arashieh and Bahrein. During Egypt's Old Kingdom, it was a part of Tehenu, the Olive Land that may have extended as for east as Mareotis.

The Monastery of the Syrians (Deir al-Surian) by Jimmy Dunn

This monastery, one of the four well known of its kind in Wadi al-Natrun, was probably founded in the sixth century, though some might date it later. It is located about five hundred meters northwest of the Monastery of Saint Bishoi. The monastery of the Syrians provides a great opportunity to study the development of Coptic wall painting. Between 1991 and 1999, several segments of wall paintings layered on top of each other were uncovered in the Church of the Holy Virgin and the Chapel of he Forty-nine Martyrs, dating from between the seventh and the thirteenth centuries.

Wadi Natrun, the Coptic Center by Jimmy Dunn

The history of the Wadi and its importance to Coptic Christians dates back to the 4th century AD. Christianity reached the area with St. Macarius the Great who retreated there in c.330, at a time when monastic life was not yet developed.

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Last Updated: June 12th, 2011