Dayr Abu Musa Al-‘Aswad


The Monastery of THE BLACK, dedicated to Our Lady, is situated opposite DAYR in the wilderness of Wadi Habib in the Western Desert. Though the precise date of its foundation is unknown, it is presumably one of the early monasteries in this area, perhaps from the fourth or fifth century.

It is mentioned in subsequent centuries by numerous authors. In the eleventh century, the Coptic writer and deacon ibn Mufarrij recorded its existence as an independent unit; but al-MAQRIZI (1970) in the fifteenth century confused it with the neighboring Dayr al-Baramus. However, E. AMÉLINEAU, in his famous Coptic of Egypt, listed it as one of seven monasteries in that region.

Abu Musa al-‘Aswad, or the Black, is known to have been a fourth-century Abyssinian slave who became a highwayman involved in robberies and murders. Later he was reformed and became a monk of SCETIS, living as a solitary in a cave hewn in the rock  opposite  Dayr  al-Baramus.  Eventually  other  monks congregated around his cave and built their own cells, which constituted the aforementioned monastic laura. According to Mawhub, the area was sparsely inhabited by monks, who possibly preferred the security of the better protected Dayr al-Baramus. The number of monks was also depleted by the Black of 1349 and the famine of 1374. The Monastery of the Black was utterly abandoned and fell into ruin.


  • Amélineau, E. La Géographie de l’Egypte à l’époque . Paris, 1893.
  • Burmester, O. H. E. A Guide to the Monasteries of Wadi’n-Natrun. Cairo, n.d.
  • Evelyn-White, H. G. The Monasteries of the Wadi’n-Natrun, 3 vols. New York, 1926-1933.
  • Meinardus, O. F. A. Christian Egypt, Ancient and Modern. Cairo, 1965; 2nd ed., 1977.