Coptic Monasteries

Coptic Monasteries: Egypt’s Monastic Art and Architecture

Gawdat Gabra
With a historical overview by Tim Vivian
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 160
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt15m7g74
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  • Book Info
    Coptic Monasteries
    Book Description:

    Egypt, the birthplace of communal monasticism, has a rich store of monasteries and monastic art. Coptic Monasteries takes the reader on a tour of the best preserved and most significant of these ancient religious centers, documenting in exhaustive detail the richness and the glory of the Coptic heritage. An informative introduction by Tim Vivian brings to life the early Christian era, with background information on the origins of the Coptic Church as well as its rites and ceremonies, sketches of some of monasticism’s founding figures, and accounts of some of the difficulties they faced, from religious schism to nomadic attacks. Gawdat Gabra’s expert commentary, complemented by almost one hundred full-color photographs of newly restored wall paintings and architectural features, covers monasteries from Aswan to Wadi al-Natrun. Ranging across a thousand years of history, Gabra’s observations will make any reader an expert on the composition and content of some of Egypt’s most outstanding religious art, the salient architectural features of each monastery, as well as the ongoing process of restoration that has returned much of their original vibrancy to these works. A unique and invaluable historical record, Coptic Monasteries is equally an in-depth, on-the-spot guide to these living monuments or an armchair trip back in time to the roots of one of the world’s oldest Christian traditions.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-260-7
    Subjects: Art & Art History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. [Map]
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. xix-xxii)

    Monasticism represents the most important contribution of the Copts to world civilization. St. Antony of Egypt (251-356) is known as “the father of the monks.” His biography, which was written by Athanasius shortly after the saint’s death, has influenced the Christian world; it suffices to mention its deep impact on St. Augustine. Egypt is the birthplace of cenobitic, or communal, monasticism. St. Pachom (292-346) established this system of monasticism at Tabennisi in Upper Egypt, based on precise rules that cover almost every aspect of a monk’s life, from when he should pray, attend mass, work, sleep, and take his meals...

  7. Chronology
    (pp. xxiii-xxvi)
  8. Chapter 1 The Coptic Orthodox Church
    (pp. 1-20)
    Tim Vivian

    The word “Copt” reflects in miniature the history of the Coptic people of Egypt. The term appears to derive from the Greekaigyptos/aigyptioi,which was later reduced in Arabic toqbt,and thus gave rise to the word “Copt” or “Coptic” designating both the country of Egypt and its native inhabitants. (In the Coptic language itself, the late written form of ancient Egyptian, “Egypt” is designated by chêmi, literally “the black land” (fromchmom,“black”), probably referring to the rich black silt of the Nile, and “Egyptian” isremnchêmi, “person of Egypt.”)

    The Greeks appear to have formedaigyptosfrom...

  9. Chapter 2 The Monasteries of Wadi al-Natrun
    (pp. 21-46)

    The most important monastic center in Egypt is undoubtedly that located in Wadi al-Natrun, “the valley of natron,” a desert depression about 50 kilometers long. It runs in a northwesterly direction and lies in the Libyan desert about 90 kilometers northwest of Cairo. This district has been known by many names which derive from a number of languages: Scetis, Scythis, al-Isqit, Shiet, Shihat, and Wadi Habib. The monasteries of Wadi al-Natrun developed from hermitic settlements, which began when St. Macarius (ca. 300-ca. 390) —known as St. Macarius the Egyptian or St. Macarius the Great —withdrew into the valley around 330....

  10. Chapter 3 The Monastery of the Archangel Gabriel in al-Faiyum
    (pp. 47-54)

    The oasis of al-Faiyum is a large natural depression in the Western Desert which takes its water from the Nile. It lies about one hundred kilometers south of Cairo. Christianity was introduced to al-Faiyum as early as the second century. Nepos was the bishop of Arseinoe (al-Faiyum) in the middle of the third century. We are told that St. Antony (251-350) visited monks in the Faiyum. Many monasteries which once existed in al-Faiyum are known from several documents. One of the largest collections of Coptic manuscripts ever discovered comes from the ruins of the Monastery of the Archangel Michael near...

  11. Chapter 4 The Monasteries of the Eastern Desert
    (pp. 55-118)

    The monasteries of St. Antony and St. Paul lie southeast of Cairo, on the Red Sea. They can be reached from the capital either via Ain al-Sukhna and Za’farana down the coast, or by travelling up the Nile via al-Kuraimat. The distance by either route is about 300 kilometers.

    The monasteries bear the names of two seminal figures of monasticism. The biography of St. Antony (251-356) that was written by Patriarch Athanasius (328-373) made the “Father of Monasticisim” famous in Egypt and Europe as well. St. Paul of Thebes was known, according to Jerome, as the “first Hermit.” He withdrew...

  12. Chapter 5 The Monasteries of Sohag
    (pp. 119-128)

    Sources speak of the monasteries which Pachomius established in the neighborhood of Akhmim during the first half of the fourth century. But no physical trace of them has been found, nor can hypothetical locations be proposed for them on present evidence. Many monasteries, however, still exist in the district of the ancient town of Akhmim (Panopolis), which lies about five hundred kilometers south of Cairo on the east bank of the Nile. Only a few of them—such as the Monastery of the Archangel Michael and that of al-Shuhada—are of historical interest. The most celebrated monasteries in the Akhmim...

  13. Chapter 6 The Monasteries of Aswan
    (pp. 129-138)

    According to literary sources churches existed in the neighborhood of Aswan as early as the third century. Shortly after 325, Aswan became the residence of a bishop, to whose episcopate the island of Elephantine also belonged. A bishop of Philae is mentioned in 362. Only the ruins of a few ancient churches, consisting of the foundations and some fallen elements such as column shafts, have survived. Two monasteries remain in Aswan. The Monastery of Anba Hatre, also known as the Monastery of St. Simeon, is famous and visited by many tourists. By contrast, the other monastery is little known and...

  14. Chapter 7 Ruined Monasteries
    (pp. 139-146)

    During the early centuries of monasticism the Egyptian desert witnessed a rapid increase in the number of monasteries and monks. St. Jerome (ca. 347-419/420) spoke of fifty thousand Pachomian monks. Relying upon ancient historians, al-Maqrizi (d. 1441) stated that seventy thousand monks from Scetis went to meet general ‘Amr ibn al-As at the time of the Arab conquest of Egypt. Even if these figures are exaggerated and untrustworthy, they nevertheless indicate that the number of monks was extremely large. Many monasteries are mentioned in different texts. Most of them were abandoned and subsequently disappeared, or their ruins have not yet...

  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 147-158)
  16. Glossary
    (pp. 159-162)
  17. Index
    (pp. 163-168)