Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Christianity and Monasticism in Aswan and Nubia

Christianity and Monasticism in Aswan and Nubia

Gawdat Gabra
Hany N. Takla
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 352
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Christianity and Monasticism in Aswan and Nubia
    Book Description:

    Christianity and monasticism have flourished along the Nile Valley in the Aswan region of Upper Egypt and in what was once Nubia, from as early as the fourth century until the present day. The contributors to this volume, international specialists in Coptology from around the world, examine various aspects of Coptic civilization in Aswan and Nubia over the past centuries. The complexity of Christian identity in Nubia, as distinct from Egypt, is examined in the context of church ritual and architecture. Many of the studies explore Coptic material culture: inscriptions, art, architecture, and archaeology; and language and literature. The archaeological and artistic heritage of monastic sites in Edfu, Aswan, Makuria, and Kom Ombo are highlighted, attesting to their important legacies in the region.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-359-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Contributors
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Foreword
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
    Fawzy Estafanous

    This is the fifth volume of the seriesChristianity and Monasticism in Egypt. It contains the essays presented at the fifth international symposium of the St. Mark Foundation for Coptic History Studies and the St. Shenouda the Archimandrite Coptic Society. The symposium was held from January 31 to February 4, 2010 in a beautiful spot near the Monastery of St. Hadra, west of Aswan. In addition to a number of Egyptians, the invited contributors, who represent a variety of academic disciplines, came from Australia, England, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, and the United States. Their valuable contributions show the richness...

  6. Introduction
    (pp. xix-xxii)
    Gawdat Gabra and Hany N. Takla

    With two exceptions, the chapters in this volume originated as papers presented to the international symposium “Christianity and Monasticism in Aswan and Nubia” organized by the St. Mark Foundation for Coptic History Studies and the St. Shenouda the Archimandrite Coptic Society. The symposium was held from 31 January to 4 February 2010 in the new residences that the Coptic Orthodox diocese of Aswan built near the Monastery of St. Hadra on the west bank of the Nile.

    The contributors to the symposium, and other scholars who were not able to come to Aswan, were invited to cover the Christian heritage...

  7. Language and Literature

    • 1 Coptic Ostraca from Hagr Edfu
      (pp. 1-8)
      Anke Ilona Blöbaum

      While the Greek and Coptic documentary texts of late antique Tell Edfu are well represented in the scientific discourse,¹ very little information is known about comparable material from Hagr Edfu. In fact, a number of Greek and Coptic ostraca have been located in Hagr Edfu as well.

      In the year 1941, a number of Coptic and Greek ostraca were found near the ruins surrounding the nineteenth-century church. Unfortunately they were never published and their whereabouts remains unknown (Fakhry 1947: 47; Gabra 1985: 11; 1991: 1200; Effland 1999: 25).

      Forty years later, during an excavation conducted by the inspector of Edfu...

    • 2 Imagining Macedonius, the First Bishop of Philae
      (pp. 9-20)
      James E. Goehring

      As Tim Vivian observed in the introduction to his English translation ofThe Histories of the Monks of Upper Egypt and the Life of Onnophrius, the modern study of monasticism in Egypt, if it treats Aswan (Syene) and Philae at all, tends to relegate them to the borderlands. Histories dependent on the usual sources of early Egyptian monasticism (Apophthegmata Patrum, Lausiac History , History of the Monks in Egypt, andLife of Pachomius) produce maps that reach no farther south than the monasteries of the Pachomian federation, the southernmost of which was located at Sne (Latopolis), modern-day Esna. When Aswan...

    • 3 Apa Hadra (Hidra) in the Difnar
      (pp. 21-26)
      Nashaat Mekhaiel

      The Copts remember during the church year many saints who are important for the way their church sees itself and with whom the faithful can identify. Among them are famous personalities such as the abbot Shenoute (7 Abib) and the patriarchs Athanasius (7 Basans) and Cyril (3 Abib), as well as saints whose reputation is limited locally and has spread primarily within a narrower environment. To the latter belongs Apa Hadra (Hidra), one of the bishops of Aswan in the fourth century, to whom a monastery was dedicated in the vicinity of Aswan. This is now known under the name...

    • 4 Christianity on Philae
      (pp. 27-38)
      Samuel Moawad

      Philae (Coptic:πιλλk, πιλλkδ; Arabic: Bilaq) is a small island in the Nile River about four miles south of Aswan at the southern end of the First Cataract. It is 460 meters long and 150 meters wide. It was the most famous place of pilgrimage devoted to the Egyptian goddess Isis in the late period (732–30 BC) (Winter 1982: 1022; Richter 2002: 115; Dijkstra 2008: 249). The origin of the name is unknown. According to the Byzantine historian Procopius (ca. 500–ca. 562) in chapter 19 of the first book of hisPersian Wars,written in 550/551, the name Philae...

    • 5 The Indexing of Manuscripts of the Monastery of the Great Saint Pachomius in Edfu
      (pp. 39-46)
      Father Angelous el-Naqlouny

      The abandoned monastery of Saint Pachomius at Hagr Edfu (Gabra 1991; Timm 1985: 1148–57) was rebuilt by Bishop Hidra and reoccupied in 1975, hence the manuscripts are very recent (Meinardus 1999: 245; 2002: 185). In this catalog, I have adopted the same system that was used in my previous article (el-Naqlouny 2010). Our presentation was inspired by the Simaika Catalogue (Simaika and ‘Abd al-Masih 1939). Most of the manuscripts are liturgical except for one containing hagiographical texts relating to monks and saints, mainly from Upper Egypt....

    • 6 The Beginnings of Christianity in Nubia
      (pp. 47-54)
      Siegfried G. Richter

      The territory of Nubia extends over an area between the First Cataract in the north and the region of Khartoum in the south. The Red Sea marks the eastern border; the desert forms a natural boundary in the west. Depending on the use of ‘Nubia’ in its historical sense or as a geographical term, the definition diversifies. Some studies would set the southern boundary in the area of the Fourth or the Fifth Cataract.¹ In the sixth century, Nubia was divided politically into three kingdoms—Noubadia in the north, Makuria in the middle, and Alodia in the south.

      From its...

    • 7 A Foreshadowing of the Desert Spirituality in Ancient Nubia and Upper Egypt
      (pp. 55-62)
      Ashraf Alexandre Sadek

      The emergence of hermits and anchorites in the Egyptian deserts during the third and fourth centuries is a major event in the history of mankind. How can it be explained? Some political and social reasons have been offered (see, for example, Regnaud 1990: 42), yet it is also necessary to study the possible link between this phenomenon and the ancient pharaonic civilization.

      We shall endeavor here to find out what the ancient Egyptians’ relation with the desert was and how this link, associated with the biblical idea of the desert, may have prepared the birth of the Christian ‘desert spirituality’...

    • 8 Contested Frontiers: Southern Egypt and Northern Nubia, AD 300–1500: The Evidence of the Inscriptions
      (pp. 63-78)
      Jacques van der Vliet

      Aswan traditionally represents Egypt’s southern frontier. This was already the case in pharaonic times, if not in reality, at least symbolically.¹ The very notion of a frontier implies the notion of discontinuity. Frontiers may mark and even create differences. On this side of the border things are normal, but beyond things are different—or that is what we expect. Yet frontiers are also zones of passage: places of contact where we get to experience the differences, negatively or positively, and where we are forced to react accordingly. Frontiers, which may seem static and eternal at first sight, can acquire a...

    • 9 The Veneration of Saints in Aswan and Nubia
      (pp. 79-92)
      Youhanna Nessim Youssef

      TheSynaxarion, as we have it now, was compiled in Lower Egypt. It includes only a few saints from Aswan and its region. In this article I will mention some of the saints venerated in the region of Aswan and Nubia.

      There are three approaches to address this subject:

      The study of the inscriptions and the other material that mention saints.

      The region is very poor in these (Papaconstantinou 2001a: 304).¹

      The study of the names of the bishops and the clergy.

      The study of the churches and monasteries in the area.

      With regard to the...

  8. Art, Archaeology, and Material Culture

    • 10 Dayr al-Kubbaniya: Review of the Documentation on the ‘Isisberg’ Monastery
      (pp. 93-104)
      Renate Dekker

      This contribution will focus on the monastery known under the names ‘Isisberg’ Monastery, Dayr al-Shaykha, and Dayr al-Kubbaniya, which is located to the northwest of Aswan along the riverside. It was partly excavated in 1911 (Junker 1922), but it is presently covered by sand again. Recent photographs offer a view of the monastic site in its present state and show the remains of the largest building, which has been described but not excavated. With permission of the Geological Survey of Norway (NGU) I publish these photographs and also review the available documentation on the monastery.¹

      Since 2004, the Aswan west...

    • 11 The Development of the Church at Dayr Anba Hadra: A Study of the Plasterwork and Dated Inscriptions
      (pp. 105-116)
      Renate Dekker

      Situated on the west bank of the Nile near Aswan are the impressive ruins of a monastery that is often called the Monastery of St. Simeon. Inscriptions from the site, however, demonstrate that it was dedicated to Apa Hatre (Anba Hadra), a fourth-century hermit and bishop of Aswan, whose life is described in the Copto-ArabicSynaxarionas well as in the unpublished “Life of Hatre” (Monneret de Villard 1927b: 7–9; Timm 1984–2007: 664–67; Coquin and Martin 1991b: 744–45; Dijkstra and Van der Vliet 2003: 31; Gabra 2002: 108–10).¹

      Dayr Anba Hadra is of great importance...

    • 12 An Updated Plan of the Church at Dayr Qubbat al-Hawa
      (pp. 117-136)
      Renate Dekker

      In a preliminary study I published a ground plan of the church of Dayr Qubbat al-Hawa based on the discoveries made in 1998 by the Supreme Council of Antiquities (Dekker 2008: 19–6).¹ In February 2010, during the conference in Aswan, the SCA had just resumed the excavation of the church and were about to uncover its sanctuary, which had so far remained hidden below the sand. On the basis of the recent finds and my own research I drew an updated ground plan which shows the layout of the church and its immediate surroundings.²

      The hill of Qubbat al-Hawa,...

    • 13 The Christian Wall Paintings from the Temple of Isis at Aswan Revisited
      (pp. 137-156)
      Jitse H. F. Dijkstra and Gertrud J. M. van Loon

      Ancient Syene is almost completely covered by the southern part of modern Aswan (‘Old Aswan’), which makes archaeological excavation of the site difficult. As a result, only two ancient monuments have been preserved, the temple of Domitian and the temple of Isis. In the 1980s and 1990s successful surveys in the area around the Isis temple led to the creation, in the year 2000, of a joint project of the Swiss Institute of Architectural and Archaeological Research on Ancient Egypt and the Supreme Council of Antiquities.² This project, under supervision of Cornelius von Pilgrim, the director of the Swiss Institute,...

    • 14 Monastic Life in Makuria
      (pp. 157-174)
      Włodzimierz Godlewski

      After the incorporation of Noubadia at the end of the sixth century and the conclusion in 652 of a treaty (Baqt) at Dongola between Qalidurut, the king of Makuria, and Abdullahi abu Sarh, the governor of Egypt, the kingdom of Makuria comprised the river valley and adjoining territories between Aswan in the north and the Fifth Cataract on the Nile in the south. In the second half of the seventh century, the kingdom of Makuria was already a fully established state with an efficient administration and well-trained army, and with morale running high, fed effectively by the fettered Arab expansion....

    • 15 Christian Aswan in the Modern Era and the History of Its Cathedral
      (pp. 175-186)
      Metropolitan Hedra

      Nowadays the boundaries of the diocese of Aswan are the same as the governorate. It extends from al-Sebaiya (Edfu) in the north to the city of Abu Simbel in the south. This makes Aswan the second governorate in size in Egypt and the largest diocese in size.

      In the past, the governorate of Aswan was divided into several districts, but as for the church, it consisted of six dioceses, many of which disappeared due to political and local factors. In the middle of the fourteenth century, there still existed two bishop’s sees: Aswan and Ibrim. Bishop Michael is considered the...

    • 16 The Word and the Flesh
      (pp. 187-200)
      Karel C. Innemée

      Much has been said and written about Christian painting in Nubia since the discoveries of the 1960s during the UNESCO campaign and the subsequent campaigns in places such as Dongola.

      It is remarkable that Christian Nubia is the theme of a conference that has been organized by two Coptic organizations and the Coptic Church. It almost forces us to ask the question: how Coptic was Nubia and can we consider Christian culture in Nubia as an extension of Egyptian Christianity?

      In almost all respects, Nubia should be considered separate from Christian Egypt. Politically Makuria and Noubadia (later merged into one...

    • 17 The Ascension Scene in the Apse of the Church at Dayr Qubbat al-Hawwa: A Comparative Study
      (pp. 201-212)
      Mary Kupelian

      This paper is particularly concerned with the dominant scene that appears in the apse composition of the church of Qubbat al-Hawa at Aswan. It carefully examines this scene and compares it with similar surviving scenes found in other apse compositions elsewhere. It challenges the widely held view regarding the classification of such a scene and proves that this scene is either an ‘Ascension’ scene or a ‘Second Coming’ scene rather than a ‘Christ in Majesty’ scene as commonly believed.

      The paper also sheds light on the presence of certain significant elements within the scene which are both reserved for and...

    • 18 The Nubian Marble Object Preserved in Dayr al-Suryan in Wadi al-Natrun
      (pp. 213-220)
      Bishop Martyros

      The fact that there is a tray of white marble, on which there are inscriptions in both the Greek and Nubian languages, in the Museum of the Holy Virgin Monastery (Dayr al-Suryan) in Wadi al-Natrun motivated me to conduct research on that tray and get acquainted with the character of King Giorgios whose name is recorded on it. This Nubian tray will be the focus of this paper.

      Most of the information about it was obtained from a published work of Hugh Evelyn-White (Evelyn-White 1933). However, the first to discover that tray was Professor Francis Crawford Burkitt (Burkitt 1903), while...

    • 19 The Digital 3D Virtual Reconstruction of the Monastic Church, Qubbat al-Hawa
      (pp. 221-230)
      Howard Middleton-Jones

      In 2006 a proposal for a Coptic Multi-media Database was devised, and in the following year the project was developed by collating the maximum amount of available information possible for input into the retrieval system (Middleton-Jones 2010). Although the input and manipulation of this data are extremely time-consuming, it is a critically important process for the ongoing project to build up a comprehensive collection of monastic sites and associated information. This, in turn, will assist in producing a full and succinct record of essential elements for a complete and accurate record of each site, and thus of great advantage for...

    • 20 Christian Objects in the Aswan and Nubia Museums
      (pp. 231-236)
      Atif Naguib

      The archaeological survey of lower Nubia (1907–12) was undertaken by the Egyptian government in order to discover and record the historical material that would be lost when the district was submerged by the filling of the old Aswan Dam.

      The Ministry of Public Works paid all the expenses of this mission and for the heightening of the dam. In 1912, the ministry also authorized the conversion of one of the largest of the government rest houses, situated on Elephantine Island, into a museum for Nubian antiquities. This is the present-day Aswan Museum. The museum collection includes antiquities and artifacts...

    • 21 Sources for the Study of Late Antique and Early Medieval Hagr Edfu
      (pp. 237-248)
      Elisabeth R. O’Connell

      The late antique site of Hagr Edfu is located in a set of low sandstone hills 2.5 kilometers west of the contemporary town site at Tell Edfu (fig. 21.1). Hagr Edfu’s Coptic toponym,ptoou nTbô, describes its physical and social relationship to Tell Edfu (Tbô). In Coptic,tooucan mean ‘mountain’ or ‘desert,’ and Hagr Edfu rises in the distance on the western horizon, where it is the most prominent natural feature visible from Tell Edfu.Tooucan also mean ‘cemetery,’ and Hagr Edfu was indeed a burial site for the population of Tell Edfu from as early as the...

    • 22 Christianity in Kom Ombo
      (pp. 249-256)
      Adel F. Sadek

      Kom Ombo¹ lies on the eastern bank of the Nile between Mount al-Silsila and Aswan. It was an important trade stop for caravans between Sudan and Egypt. The most important monument is the double-celled temple from the Ptolemaic period dedicated to the crocodile god Sobek and the falcon god Haroeris (Horus) (Grossmann 1991e). The old town of Omboi vanished and became a mound called Kom Ombo; the wordkomin Arabic means ‘mound.’ A new city by the same name arose at the beginning of the twentieth century, bordering the old site.

      In the history of the Christian kingdom of...

    • 23 Identification of the Monastery of the Nubians in Wadi al-Natrun
      (pp. 257-264)
      Fr. Bigoul al-Suriany

      Christianity was introduced into Nubia by the sixth century. By the eighth century, the whole of Nubia had become Christian. It would be safe to assume that the Nubians shared with their neighbors, the Egyptian Christians from Upper Egypt, the various aspects of the non-Chalcedonian faith, including saints and worship practices.

      When the Arabs invaded Egypt, by the mid-seventh century, they tried unsuccessfully to continue into Nubia. However, a treaty (Baqt) was imposed on Nubia by which the Nubians would supply the Muslim authority in Egypt with a number of slaves in exchange for other goods needed in Nubia (den...

    • 24 Monneret de Villard (1881–1954) and Nubia
      (pp. 265-270)
      Fr. Awad Wadi

      The first scholar to write about Monneret de Villard (hereafter referred to as MdV) was Giorgio Levi Della Vida (1954). The text was included in a volume edited by Ugo Scarpocchi (1954), with a bibliography of MdV divided into four groups: Egypt, Nubia, Ethiopia, and “Varia.” Giorgio Levi Della Vida then provided further information about MdV’s personality and produced an additional bibliography (Levi Della Vida 1955). Ernest Kühnel republished this bibliography with an introduction two years later (Kühnel 1957). In 1987 a complete bibliography appeared with 197 titles of books and articles published between 1904 and 1966 (Piemontese 1987).


  9. Preservation

    • 25 The Conservation of the Mural Paintings of St. Hatre Monastery
      (pp. 271-280)
      Ashraf Nageh

      The Monastery of St. Hatre (Dayr Anba Hadra) represents one of the tragic situations of Coptic heritage. Although it was published by Monneret de Villard in 1927 and became well known to scholars and researchers, it does not receive either attention or appropriate protection (Monneret de Villard 1927a). Comparison between the old photos, published in 1927, and the actual situation at the present time gives quite a clear progression of the deterioration of the buildings in general and the wall paintings in particular (fig. 25.1).

      The monastery is located on the west bank of Aswan city. This area is covered...

  10. Abbreviations
    (pp. 281-282)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 283-310)