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Christian Antinoopolis

The emperor Diocletian proclaimed it a metropolis, and from the fourth

century on, it was a significant Episcopal see, with a wealth
of Christian churches and monasteries within its immediate environs.
In the early fourth century, the city saw considerable Christian
martyrdom, including a number of well known saints. Among them was
t. Colluthus, a physician, who was martyred in either !"# or !"$ AD.
%is will on papyrus has been one of the more interesting finds in the
area. As the protector of the city, t. Colluthus was especially revered
there as a saint. &e also learn of Antinoe's Christian heritage from
the (ausiac %istory )*$.+, *-.+., where presumably /alladius tells us
that he
0spent four years in Antinoe in the Thebaid and in that time I gained a
knowledge of the monasteries there. About twelve hundred men dwell
around the city living by the toil of their hands and practicing asceticism
to a high degree. Among them there are also anchorites who have
confined themselves in rocky caves... In the town of Antinoe are twelve
monasteries of women.0
&hen the Arabs con1uered Egypt in 2#+, the city soon declined, but it
was still noted in the tenth century by everus of Antioch as 0the Ansina
bishopric0. %owever, by the twelfth century, Ibn 3ubayr, a traveler tells
us that this ancient 3reek city had been destroyed by aladin. In the
archaic period, the last mention of the city occurs in the fourteenth
4egrettably, the city remained almost intact until the founder of modern
Egypt, 5uhammad Ali )+$67*8+-7*., had most of the finer materials
carried off for use in the construction of a large sugar refinery. Though
only traces remain, we do know however that it took on the appearance
of a typical 4oman urban center almost void of any Egyptian influence,
with a chessboard plan, porticoes with columns, triumphal arches,
baths, an amphitheater, hippodrome, temples and as Egypt moved into
the Christian era, many churches and monasteries. %owever, there are
e9tensive remains of the less valuable brick buildings.
:or many years, Antinoe has been the ob;ect of e9tensive research and
e9cavation carried out by an Italian led team. Thanks to the Egyptian
climate, the cemeteries opened in recent years have supplied the
science of Christian anti1uity with many noteworthy ob;ects. 4oman
and <y=antine burial8places have been found in a wonderful state of
preservation. The bodies, before burial, underwent a preparation very
different from that used by the ancient Egyptians. The dead were
provided with a mask instead of mummification, which was no longer
pecifically, they have unearthed many churches, some of which were
part of monastic comple9es. /erhaps the most interesting of these
remains is a church located near the southern cemetery. It was
e1uipped with an apse surrounded by a concentric series of columns
and a an unusual nave. %ere, two outer aisles are e9tremely narrow
and served only as ambulatories. The inner aisles were almost twice as
wide as the outer aisles, and even wider than the nave itself. &hile
unusual, this church, which probably dates to the fourth century, was
typical of that period's Christian architecture in Egypt, which was later
superseded by other styles. >ear the north cemetery, a basilica with a
nave and two aisles, likely dating to the fourth century, was also
discovered. In addition, trace remains of smaller and larger churches
have been unearthed within the city. ome of these have only a nave,
while others have two or four aisles.
A large construct situated on the eastern edge of the ancient city, the
Church of the %oly ?irgin )5ortuary Chapel of the %oly ?irgin in the
>ecropolis. was partially restored in +-!#. %ere, the altar room is
locked with an iron gate. There are paintings on the eastern and
southern walls that are badly damaged. %owever, on the southern wall,
one may still make out traces of a painting of Theodosia between aint
Colluthus and the %oly ?irgin. tored within the altar room are three
socles )pedestals. and one column.
There is also scant remains of a s1uare church with an apse, which was
most certainly a component of a large monastic community, for
associated with it are ten rooms containing ten beds each. &ithin the
western section of the ruins of the city, near the cliff that separates the
high plateau from the bed of the >ile, a church believed to date to the
si9th century has also been unearthed by archaeologists. It has a choir
and a triple sanctuary and there remains considerable painted
decorations. This church is also thought to have been a part of a
monastic community.
The Monasteries of Sanbat and al-Nasara (Deir Sanbat and Deir al-
About two kilometers north of Antinoe in the desert area along the lower
rocky escarpments lie several 1uarries which form a semicircle. In the
center of this semicircle are the remains of a Christian monastery with
walls that were built of crude bricks. About this ancient monastery, are
at least nine cells, most of which are on the slopes to the south of the
ruins. &ithin some of the cells are graffiti of crosses, while others are
adorned with the 0alpha and omega0.
Around the emicircle are the remains of two ancient churches, behind
one of which was another monastery. A section of the building was cut
into the rock, while the other part was enclosed within a brick wall.
ome of the cells belonging to this monastery are still visible. The walls
of the attached church are adorned with several wall paintings. %ere
also is a niche, which in turn contains three small niches separated from
one another by columns, surmounted by a dome. A small door
communicates with the court of the monastery, where the remains of
cells around the court can be seen. The second church, further south,
also contains wall paintings of saints and some Coptic graffiti, as well as
a cross enclosed by a double circle.
&e believe that these two monasteries are those of anbat and al8
>asara, though current documentation makes their specific
identification unclear.
The Monastery of al-Dik (Deir al-Dik)
(ittle remains of this monastery, located about four kilometers north of
Antinoe, which was built of crude, unbaked brick. It sits near the bank of
the >ile opposite the Island of hiba. The ruins measure some +#2 by
-7 meters and the (aura )cells of the anchorites. e9tends for over one
and a half kilometers north of the monastery. urrounding a cave
church, there are at least si9teen cells in the (aura. The church itself
was rectangular and had one nave with four bays and a single
sanctuary. The church is noteworthy because of its numerous wall
paintings of crosses. In addition, there is a two story cave monastery
hewn from the rock. The entire comple9 appears to have been
surrounded by a high enclosure wall. The settlement itself was founded
by Abba Apollo and may date back to as early as the fifth or si9th
century, though the monastery itself was most likely built later, in the
tenth century. All about the (arua, the surrounding mountains are
honeycombed with caves that anchorites occupied in the past.
Deir Abu Hinnis
@nly a few kilometers south of Antinoe is the village of Deir Abu %innis
where the Church of aint Aohn the hort is situated. This is probably
the best known ruins in this area, so it has been addressed as a
separate topic within our discussions on ancient monasteries and
Deir al-Barsha
The 5onastery
:our miles further south from Deir Abu %innis is the 5onastery of aint
<ishoi )/shoi. )Arabic Deir Anba <ishai. at Deir al8<arsha )also known
as Deir al8>akhla.. Deir al8<arsha is a rich archaeological site with
pharaonic 1uarries and many tombs predating the Christian era. This
monastery sits on the east side of the >ile 4iver and consists of the
Church of aint <ishoi, in the northern section of the comple9, with the
ruins of the monastic buildings west of the church and a well to the
Actually the church building consists of a lower church and an upper
chapel, also dedicated to t. <ishoi. In the lower church, the semi8
circular apse, the rectangular room north of the apse, the khurus )choir.
and the pillars of the nave probably belong to the original building.
There are three sanctuaries )haikals. that are dedicated to aint <ishoi,
aint 3eorge and the %oly ?irgin. The screen that stands before the
sanctuaries is constructed of burnt brick and is apparently very old. @f
course, it is adorned with icons of aint <ishoi, aint 3eorge and the
%oly ?irgin. To the north of the sanctuary dedicated to aint <ishoi is a
small gynaikion and beside it is the staircase leading to the upper
church. There is a bakery for the Eucharist )1urban. in the southwest
corner of the church, and a baptistery in the northwest corner.
The upper church is almost certainly older than the lower church. It has
two sanctuaries with walls that are decorated with several layers of
paintings. %ere, the haikal screen is of stone and displays a date of
+*$7 A5 )+$22 AD.. The church is surmounted by five domes that form
the sign of a cross and are beautifully decorated with stars, crosses and
other geometrical designs. Traditionally, it is believed that the upper
church was used by the local population as a place of refuge during
times of danger and persecution.
(ocal tradition also holds that the monastery was founded by none other
than aint <ishoi, who settled here after his monastery in &adi al8
>atrun was sacked by fierce <edouins in #"6 AD. %e is said to have
died here in #+6 AD. @bviously a large monastic center, during the si9th
and seventh centuries, it is said that some one thousand monks
populated this community.
&e understand that the Church of aint <ishoi was used on a regular
basis until ;ust a few years ago, but now only on special occasions.
Interestingly however, until very recently, the church was used for
weddings on aturday afternoons. Afterwards, the bride and groom
would spend the night in the sanctuary, and would only return to their
home after the Divine (iturgy on unday morning.
The Surrounding Area
Today, as long ago, al8<arsha remains a largely Christian community.
About one kilometer into the mountains behind the village are
hermitages, which were created from the ancient tombs. They are
situated at all levels on both sides of the wadi, and ;ust beyond tomb
seven, on the north face of the wadi, are several small 1uarries with
ancient Coptic graffiti. @n the south side of the wadi are tombs
decorated with Coptic crosses and the 0alpha and omega0.
Title Author DatePublisher
2000 Years of Coptic
Meinardus, Otto F.
University in
Cairo ress,
"#$% 9&&
'2' (11)
Christian *+ypt,
Coptic Art and
Monuments !hrou+h
!-o Mi..ennia
Capuani, Massimo 1999
ress, !he
"#$% 00
Churches and
Monasteries of *+ypt
and #ome
Countries, !he
A3u #a.ih, !he
Armenian, *dited
and !rans.ated 3y
*vetts, $.!.A.
2001 4or+ias ress
"#$% 00