Today, an important town, the capital of the Beheira, the western province of the Delta. The origin of its name has been well established: it is “the city of Horus,” a name that suggests that it was made famous by a temple of Horus in the pharaonic period (see Cerny, 1976, p. 354). In the numerous Greek papyri from the third century B.C. to the fourth century A.D., the town is designated Hermopolis Mikra, or the Lower, to distinguish it from Hermopolis Magna (today al-Ashmunayn) in Middle Egypt.
Damanhur is documented as the seat of a bishop from the fourth century. In 325, Melitius appointed an Agathammon as bishop of the “Chora [district] of the Alexandrians,” Damanhur probably being the capital of what formed the region thus described. It is also probable that alongside this Melitian bishop there was a partisan of Saint Athanasius and that this was before Dracontius, the Catholic titular of this see in 354. He was followed by one Isidorus the Confessor and then by the famous Dioscorus, at first a priest of the desert of Nitria, who was counted among the Tall Brothers (see AMMONIUS OF KELLIA), who incurred the wrath of the patriarch THEOPHILUS (385-412) for their attachment to the teachings of ORIGEN. Dioscorus, it appears, became bishop between 390 and 394. Later this bishopric was not further mentioned.
Without doubt the hagiographical texts speak of Damanhur, but such references are deceptive, for this bishopric existed in the period of the hagiographer, not in that of the martyrs whose lives he is tracing. Thus, at 14 Ba’unah the Coptic SYNAXARION speaks of four martyrs, one of whom was a native of Damanhur, but the author adds “in the diocese of (A)busir,” which indicates that, the town of Damanhur having declined, its bishopric at the date of the composition of the second part of the Synaxarion (perhaps thirteenth century) no longer had a titular, but was united with that of Abusir.
The name of a titular of Damanhur only reappears under the eleventh-century patriarchate of CYRIL II.
An anonymous bishop of Damanhur is cited along with the bishop of Fuwwah around 1238 as being among the opponents of CYRIL III IBN LAQLAQ. Bishop Yusab of Damanhur is known as a contemporary of YUHANNA, bishop of Samannud, and of the patriarch ATHANASIUS III (Graf, 1944-1953, Vol. 2, p. 378). Around 1299, a bishop of Damanhur was present at the preparation of the CHRISM. Then this bishopric was joined to that of Laqqanah, a single titular assuming the functions of the two dioceses, for the number of Christians had continued to decrease (Munier, 1943, p. 36). Yusab’s successor, Mark, took part in the preparation of the chrism in 1320 (Munier, 1943, pp. 36, 49). Mark is listed as being present at the 1330 preparation of the chrism (Munier, p. 40), but his see is described not as being the town of Damanhur but as the province of Beheira. This Mark was designated bishop of Damanhur, but in 1330 and 1342 the same Mark is described as bishop of Beheira. Unfortunately, the records of the preparation of the chrism, which mention the bishops and the bishoprics of the time, at least to the extent that the bishops were able to participate in the ceremony, survive only for the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
The traveler J. M. Vansleb, who was in Egypt in 1672 and 1673, drew up a list of the ancient bishoprics, in which he included “Demonhor, in Greek Hermou the lower,” but in his list of “the bishoprics which are presently in Egypt,” where he counts seventeen, that of “Béhéiré” appears (1677, pp. 19, 26).
In the middle of the nineteenth century, the presence of one Sarapammon, bishop of Beheira and al-Minufiyyah, is attested (Muyser, 1944, p. 169). A certain number of celebrated monastic sites were attached to this bishopric: the desert of Nitria, since one of its priests became bishop of this see; KELLIA, which was a kind of annex to it; and, finally, Scetis (Wadi al-Natrun), called Wadi Habib in the Middle Ages. There is some doubt about a monastery for women called that “of Apa Jeremias,” mentioned in the life of Abba Daniel (Clugnet, 1900, p. 68), but it is thought that the reference is to Hermopolis Magna in Middle Egypt (Drew-Bear, 1979, p. 132).
In 1912, S. Clarke, in drawing up a review of the state of the Coptic church as an appendix to his Christian Antiquities in the Nile Valley (pp. 199-216), listed the churches and monasteries of Egypt, following the register of the patriarchate, and placed a bishopric at Damanhur, having for its territory the province of Beheira. However, O. H. E. Burmester (1967, p. 6), in drawing up the list of the present episcopal sees, placed the churches of Damanhur under the jurisdiction of the diocese of Gharbiyyah and Beheira, with the bishop’s residence at Tanta.
All the same, Meinardus (1977, p. 68) spoke of an episcopal see of Beheira, Maryut, and the Pentapolis, with Damanhur as its “monastery of origin.” This expression appears to have been retained from the first edition (1965), which mentioned the monastery of origin of the prelate; here it seems rather to indicate Damanhur as the residence of the bishop.
- Burmester, O. H. E. The Egyptian or Coptic Church. Cairo, 1967. Cerny, J. Coptic Etymological Dictionary. Cambridge, 1976. Clarke, S. Christian Antiquities in the Nile Valley. Oxford, 1912.
- Clugnet, L. “Vie et récits de l’abbé Daniel.” Revue de l’orient chrétien 5 (1900):49-73, 254-71, 370-406, 535-64.
- Drew-Bear, M. Le Nome hermopolite. American Studies in Papyrology 21. Missoula, Mont., 1979.
- Evelyn-White, H. G. The Monasteries of the Wadi ’n Natrun, Pt. 2, The History of the Monasteries of Nitria and Scetis. New York, 1932.
- Graf, G. Catalogue des manuscrits arabes chrétiens, conservés au Caire. Studi e testi 63. Vatican City, 1934.
- Le Quien, M. Oriens Christianus, 3 vols. Paris, 1740; repr. Graz, 1958.
- Meinardus, O. Christian Egypt, Ancient and Modern. Cairo, 1965; 2nd ed. 1977.
- Munier, H. Recueil des listes épiscopales de l’église copte. Cairo, 1943.
- Muyser, F. Contribution à l’étude des listes episcopales de l’église copte. Cairo, 1944.
- Vansleb, J. M. Histoire de l’église d’Alexandrie. Paris, 1677.