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Dayr Abu Hinnis (Mallawi) - Coptic Wiki



The name of Dayr Abu Hinnis generally designates a Christian village; an ancient basilica, which today serves as the parish church; and the great LAURA with a rock-cut church in the mountains. The whole is situated on the right bank of the Nile, to the southeast of the ruins of Antinoë (Al-Shaykh Abadah). A map of the site is given by J. Clédat (1902, p. 45); the plan of the in the mountain is supplied by M. Martin (1971, p. 67).

As for many other Christian sites in Egypt, it is difficult to reconcile the archaeological data with the information in surviving documents. The fourth-century HISTORIA MONACHORUM IN AEGYPTO (1971, pp. 44-45) speaks of an ascetic living in the desert of ANTINOOPOLIS in a cavern very difficult to reach. PALLADIUS, who lived at Antinoë from 406 to 410, mentions in the Historia lausiaca the large number of monks and hermits living in the caves (1898-1904, Vol. 2, pp. 151-54). He also mentions the martyrium of Saint COLLUTHUS. This same martyrium is cited several times in Coptic texts, as in the reports relating to Saint Claude of Antioch (Godron, pp. 642, 650, 654). Abu Salih (fol. 86b; 1895, pp. 110 [text], 244 [trans.]) mentions at Antinoë only the monastery of Saint Colluthus with the body of the martyr.

Al-MAQRIZI (1853, Vol. 2, p. 503; 1845, pp. 38 [text], 93 [trans.]) speaks of Dayr Abu al-Ni‘na‘, outside of Ansina (Antinoë), forming part of the most ancient constructions in the town. Its church was in the qasr (tower), not on the ground, and was dedicated to JOHN COLOBOS (the Dwarf; in Arabic, al-Qasir), whose feast is on 20 Babah. Al-Maqrizi reports the of the coming of John to Antinoë when he fled from SCETIS before the Mazices in 407. But documents indicate that John Colobos took refuge not in Antinoë but at al-Qulzum (CLYSMA). H. G. Evelyn-White has advanced the hypothesis that the reference to John might be to JOHN KAMA, who died in 859 (1932, pp. 157-58 and 307, n. 3). The true identity of the Saint John to whom this church of Abu Hinnis is dedicated is still uncertain.

Doresse wanted to include this site in what he called “the independent monastic movement” of Middle Egypt (1952, 390-95; 1970, pp. 7-29). But the most celebrated saints of this independent monastic movement do not appear in the published inscriptions.

The major archaeological sites of Dayr Abu Hinnis are the laura in the mountain and the church of the village (see below).

The church and the cells established in ancient quarries have been described by travelers such as Vansleb (1677, pp. 384-86; 1678, pp. 230-32); Sicard (1982, Vol. 2, pp. 83-86); Granger (1745, pp. 128-29); Jomard (1821, Vol. 4, pp. 272-75); and Jullien (1894, pp. 495-96).

Leclerq (1903-1953, Vol. 1, col. 2351) thinks that the rock-cut church is the martyrium of Saint Colluthus about which the Greek and Coptic texts and Abu Salih speak. If this is correct, the very extensive laura (see Martin, 1971, pp. 66-69) could, along with Saint Menas in the Mareotis region, provide us with one of the best examples in Egypt of these more or less stable establishments of free monks, “sarabaïtes,” living by preference on the outskirts of towns and in the service of the martyria (see Frend, 1969, pp. 542-49 and Fevrier, 1974, pp. 39-61).

In the village church, in the north annex of the sanctuary, an ancient offering-table, today placed as an altar stone, was once used as a funerary stela. It has often been published and translated, the best study being that of M. Cramer (1941, pp. 5-7; photograph by Grossmann, 1971, pl. 37, c). The very numerous inscriptions, Coptic, Syriac, Greek, and Arabic, have been published more or less completely.

  • Clédat, J. “Notes archéologiques et philologiques.” Bulletin de l’Institut français d’Archéologie orientale 2 (1902):49-67.
  • Cramer, M. Die Totenklage bei den Kopten. Vienna and Leipzig, 1941.
  • Crum, W. E. Coptic Monuments, p. 76, no. 8321. Cairo, 1902. Daressy, G. “Renseignements sur la provenance des stèles coptes du Musée du Caire.” Annales du Service des Antiquités de l’Egypte 13 (1914):266-71.
  • Doresse, J. “Recherches d’archéologie copte: Les monastères de moyenne Egypte.” Comptes rendus de l’Académie des inscriptions et belles lettres (1952):390-95.
  • . “Monastères de moyenne Egypte.” Bulletin de la Société française d’egyptologie 59 (1970):7-29.
  • Evelyn-White, H. G. The Monasteries of the Wadi’n Natrun, Vol. 2. New York, 1932.
  • Fenoyl, M. “Une Inscription funéraire bilingue.” Bulletin de la Société d’archéologie copte 17 (1964):57-61.
  • Février, A. “La Ville, le désert.” In Les Mystiques du désert dans l’Islam, le Judaïsme et le Christianisme. Gordes, 1975.
  • Frend, W. H. C. “Circumcelliones and Monks.” Journal of Theological Studies 20, pt. 2, new ser. (1969):542-49.
  • Galtier, E. “Coptica-arabica. Coptica.” Bulletin de l’Institut français d’Archéologie orientale 5 (1906):87-164; pp. 112-15 for the stela from Dayr Abu Hinnis.
  • Godron, G. Textes coptes relatifs à saint Claude d’Antioche. In PO 35, fascicule 4 [n. 166]. Turnhout, 1970.
  • Granger, Sieur. Relation du voyage fait en Egypte, par le sieur Granger, en l’année 1730. Cairo, 1745.
  • Jarry, J. “Les Inscriptions syriaques de Deir Abu Hennes en Moyenne Egypte.” Bulletin de l’Institut français d’Archéologie orientale 68 (1969):121-31.
  • . “Nouvelles inscriptions coptes, grecques, arabes et syriaques de Deir Abou Hennes.” Bulletin de la Société d’Archéologie copte 21 (1971-1973):52-78.
  • Jomard, E. F. “Description d’Antinoë.” In Description de l’Egypte. Antiquités 4. Paris, 1821.
  • Jullien, M. “Les Grottes de la Basse Thebaïde.” Missions catholiques (1894):495-96.
  • Leclerq, H. “Antinoë.” In Dictionnaire d’archéologie chrétienne et liturgie, Vol. 1, col. 2351. Paris, 1903.
  • Lefebvre, G. Recueil des inscriptions grecques-chrétiennes d’Egypte, pp. 41-43. Cairo, 1907.
  • Mallon, A. “Epigraphie copte.” In Dictionnaire d’archéologie chrétienne et liturgie, Vol. 3., cols. 2855-58. Paris, 1914.
  • Martin, M. La Laure de Deir al-Dîk à Antinoë. Bibliothèque d’études coptes 8. Cairo, 1971.
  • Meinardus, O. Christian Egypt, Ancient and Modern. Cairo, 1965, pp. 266-67; 2nd ed., 1977, pp. 372-73.
  • Sayce, A. H. “Coptic and Early Christian Inscriptions in Upper Egypt.” Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology 8 (1886):175-91.
  • Sicard, C. Oeuvres, 3 vols., ed. M. Martin and S. Sauneron. Bibliothèque d’étude 83-85. Cairo, 1982.
  • Vansleb, J. Nouvelle Relation en forme de journal d’un voyage fait en Egypte en 1672 et 1673. Paris, 1677. Translated as The Present State of Egypt. London, 1678.




In the small church in the middle of the present-day village have been preserved substantial elements of a foundation that may be assigned to the late fifth century. The naos, approached by a narthex, had a single aisle (Clarke’s often reprinted reconstruction with two rows of columns [1912, p. 185, pl. 56] is to be rejected) and correspondingly ends—to preserve the spatial proportions—in a relatively wide apse, on either side of which there is room only for comparatively small side chambers. The side walls of the church were provided with niches framed by pilasters. There are more niches in the narthex and in the apse. Today the church has been greatly modified by various alterations and internal additions. The naos has been split by two thick cross walls into three sections covered by domed and half-domed vaults. The northern-apse side room has been widened into a second haykal (altar room), and a baptistery added on the other side of the north wall. The women’s area (BAYT AL-NISA’), which occupies the entire south side and to which large parts of the south wall were sacrificed, was erected in the twentieth century. Similarly, the semicircular external buttresses on both sides of the entrance derive from a later period.

There is a second small church in the midst of several hermit above the village of Abu Hinnis, on the slope of the eastern desert plateau. In the literature it carries the peculiar designation “subterranean church.” It is an originally shapeless quarry cavern that was built up for use as a church with the aid of some mud brick walls. This cave deserves attention because of the numerous inscriptions and paintings contained in it. The latter, in contrast to other Christian paintings in Egypt, constitute an imposing pictorial program with extensive presentation of scenes, such as is not very common elsewhere. According to J. CLÉDAT (1902, p. 47), the paintings belong to the sixth century.

[See also: Christian Subjects in Coptic Art.]

  • Clarke, S. Christian Antiquities in the Nile Valley, pp. 181-87. Oxford, 1912.
  • Cledat, J. “Notes archéologiques et philologiques.” Bulletin de l’Institut français d’Archéologie orientale 2 (1902):41-70.
  • Grossmann, P. “Neue Untersuchungen in der Kirche von Dair Abu Hinnis in Mittelägypten.” Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archaologischen Instituts, Abteilung Kairo 27 (1971):157-71.
  • . “Frühchristliche Baukunst in Ägypten.” Spätantike und frühes Christentum. Propyläen Kunstgeschichte, Suppl. 1 (1977):243, fig. 73.
  • Timm, S. Das christlich-koptische Ägypten in arabischer Zeit, Vol. 2, pp. 577-85. Wiesbaden, 1984.