Dayr Abu Fanah



This monastery is situated to the northwest of al- ASHMUNAYN, beyond the Bahr Yusuf and about 2 miles (3 km) from Qasr Hur, at the edge of the Libyan desert. Today one can see only the church, of the basilica type, deeply sunk into the sand in the center of a vast mound that no doubt conceals the ruins of the monastery. Its decoration won for it the sobriquet Monastery of the Crosses. Local tradition places the hermitage of the founder beyond the monastery, at the foot of a rocky ridge where the remains of a fairly large construction of baked brick are still visible. The neighboring koms (mounds) perhaps conceal cells or hermitages of the type at Kellia and Isna.

The Coptic text of the APOPHTHEGMATA PATRUM, and it alone, has preserved a sequence of sayings attributed to “abba Bane, who lived in the mountain of Houôr” (Chaine, 1960, nos. 244-49).

ABU SALIH THE ARMENIAN (fol. 89a; The Churches . . ., pp. 112 [text], 249 [trans.]) speaks only of a church dedicated to Abu Fanah not in the region of al-Ashmunayn but in that of al-Khusus, that is to say, to the north of Asyut, on the right bank. It cannot therefore be the same site as that of the monastery.

The HISTORY OF THE mentions the monastery twice: first in connection with THEODOSIUS, a monk of Dayr Abu Fanah who was elected patriarch in 1294, and second, with regard to the childhood of the I, on which the judgment of Ibrahim, superior of the monastery, is reported (Vol. 3, pt. 3, pp. 134, 137 [text], 230, 237 [trans.]).

Al-MAQRIZI (1853, Vol. 2, p. 505; 1845, pp. 41 [text], 101 [trans.]) situated the monastery very exactly “to the north of Bani Khalid” and “in the province of Minya.” He noted that it was built of stone and was a fine piece of and that it formerly sheltered a thousand monks but that no more than two remained.

A life of Saint Abu Fanah is preserved in at least two manuscripts (Graf, Vol. 1 (1944), p. 533, and Vol. 2 (1947), p. 504; see also Kamil Salih Nakhlah, 1942). E. F. Jomard (1821, Vol. 4, pp. 327-29) gives the state of the monastery and its plan at the time of Napoleon’s expedition. 197. Maspero (1891, p. 511) speculates that the kom perhaps conceals a temple of Osiris. (See also Daressy, 1920, pp. 153-58, and 1917, p. 197.) The Arabic life (National Library, Paris, 153, fol. 216r) situates the hermitage of Abu Fanah “in the mountain, to the west of the village called Busir.”


  • Chaine, M., ed. Apophthegmata Patrum, Bibliothèque d’études 6. Cairo, 1960.
  • Daressy, G. “Abousir d’Achmounein.” Annales du Service des Antiquités de l’Egypte 19 (1920):153-58.
  • . “Indicateur topographique du ‘Livre des Perles enfouies et du mystère précieux.’” Bulletin de l’Institut français d’Archéologie orientale 13 (1917):175-230.
  • Jomard, E. F. “Environs d’Hermopolis, Deyr Abou-Fâneh. . . .” In Description de l’Egypte, Vol. 5, &9, pp. 327-29, ed. M. Jomard. Paris, 1821.
  • Jullien, M. “Quelques anciens couvents del’Egypte.” Mission Catholique 35 (1903):212-14.
  • Kamil Salih Nakhlah. “Summary of the Life of Saint Abu Fanah.” In Risalat Nahdat al-Kana‘is 3 (1942): 16-18, 52-54. Cairo, 1942. Leroy, J. des couvents du désert d’Esna, pl. 2, p. xv, and n. 3. Mémoires publiés par les membres de l’Institut français d’Archéologie orientale 94. Cairo, 1975.
  • Martin, M. La Laure de deir al-Dik à Antinoë. Bibliothèque d’études 8. Cairo, 1971.
  • . “Notes inédites du P. Jullien sur trois monastères chrétiens d’Egypte.” Bulletin de l’Institut français de Archéologie orientale 72 (1972):120-24 and pl. 22.
  • Maspero, G. “Notes au jour le jour.” Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archeology 13 (1891):298-315; 407-437; 496-525.
  • Meinardus, O. Christian Egypt, Ancient and Modern. Cairo, 1965, pp. 262-63; 2nd ed., 1977, pp. 364-66.
  • Monneret de Villard, U. Les Couvents près de Sohag, p. 62, n. 2. Milan, 1925; this gives a short bibliography and reproduces Jomard’s plan (fig. 95).
  • Munier, H. “Les Monuments d’après les explorations du Père Michel Jullien.” Bulletin de la Société d’Archéologie copte 6 (1940):141-68, esp. 147-52.
  • . “Chronique (1941) IV: Deir Abu Fana.” Bulletin de la Société d’Archéologie copte 7 (1941):88.
  • Sicard, C. Oeuvres, ed. M. Martin, Vol. 2, pp. 100-101. Cairo and Paris, 1982.



Of the extant buildings, only part of the church from the sixth century now rises above the ground. It is used occasionally even today for divine service and is for this reason surrounded by a staircase construction and protective brick walls intended to hold back the sand. Whereas the outer walls of the church are still well preserved, the interior has been altered through the insertion of thick brick columns and several new partition walls. In shape, the sanctuary is a triconch; however, its individual members are given unequal treatment. The eastern apse is semicircular and adorned with a circle of engaged columns. The transverse space in front of it is narrower and has a simple rectangular shape. Strangely, the triconch at first stood alone (Grossmann, 1982, fig. 25). This fact reveals that a change of plan took place with regard to the lateral chambers of the sanctuary. In the original plan, these were designed to enclose the triconch on both sides. During the completion of the church, however, the connections with the rear parts were walled up to produce two separate rooms. At the west end of the church the usual return is found. The entrance is on the north side. There was no western entrance. Of the original furnishings, various remains of paintings on the west wall and at the western end of the north wall have been preserved. The painting in the apse is of more recent date. Still surviving are a few column capitals, which are not original to the building. The cornice over the primary is original, and this ensures the dating of the edifice to the sixth century.

Other buildings belonging to the monastery are visible north of the church. In 1987 an Austrian mission excavating in this area discovered another three-aisled basilica, datable to the sixth century. It has a tripartite narthex with traces of stairs in the middle and the usual return aisle. The apse has several wall niches flanked with pilasters. Its floor is raised one step above the floor level of the nave. The lateral pastophoria are arranged in such a way that they encircle the apse on three sides.

To the south of this new church and among other buildings, some very broad halls have been unearthed, similar to those until now known only from Bawit. The larger one is furnished, as in Bawit, with a relatively small apse in the longer eastern wall. Probably these halls were used as prayer halls for the regular service hours. The other buildings might be understood mainly as lodging houses for the accommodation of the monks. Traces for the location of the refectory have not yet been recognized.


  • Adli, S. “Several Churches in Upper Egypt.” In Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts—Abteilung Kairo 36 (1980):8-9, fig. 6.
  • Buschhausen, H. “Die Ausgrabungen von Dayr Abu Fana in Mittelägypten im Jahre 1987.” Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantinistik 38 (1988):353-62.
  • Grossmann, P. Mittelalterliche Langhauskuppelkirchen und verwandte Typen in Oberägypten, p. 78, fig. 25. Glückstadt, 1982.
  • Jomard, E. F., ed. “Environs d’Hermopolis, Dayr Abou Fâneh.” In Description de l’Egypte, Vol 4, pp. 326ff., 2nd ed. Paris, 1821.
  • Martin, M. “Notes inédites du P. Jullien sur trois monastères chrétiens d’Egypte.” Bulletin de l’Institut français d’Archéologie orientale 71 (1972):119-24.
  • Timm, S. Das christlich-koptische Ägypten in arabischer Zeit, Vol. 2, pp. 573-74. Wiesbaden, 1984.