Dayr Abu Sayfayn (Old Cairo)


A Christian enclosure that derives its name from the dedicated to Abu Sayfayn (Father of Two Swords), an epithet given to Saint MERCURIUS of Caesarea. The complex also has churches of Saint SHENUTE and the Virgin Mary, as well as a convent of nuns dedicated to Saint Mercurius.

The HISTORY OF THE PATRIARCHS, in discussing the patriarch VII, (1745-1769) mentions “the monastery of the great martyr Philopator Mercurius, Father of the Two Swords.”

J. Butler (1884, pp. 75-76) reported that “half a mile beyond Mari Mina lies the walled enclosure or dair of Abu’s-Sifain, so called after the principal though not the most ancient church within it.” M. JULLIEN (1891, p. 224) wrote about “the Coptic quarter of Abou Seyfeyn,” indicating that it was a small town surrounded by ramparts not far from the mosque. P. Casanova (1919, pp. 192-98) said that “under the name of deir Abou-s Seifain there is in the center of the ancient Fustat a quite important group of buildings.” M. Simaykah (1937, p. 75) spoke of “Deir Aboul Sefein.”

Dayr Abu Sayfayn is situated north of Qasr al-Sham‘ in the old city of Misr (Old Cairo) in Jami‘ ‘Amr Street, near the railway to Hilwan and northwest of the mosque of ‘Amr ibn al-‘As. In 1672, J. Vansleb (1677, p. 131) wrote that “near the Kasr esh Schamma, on the Cairo side, is the domain of the Coptic patriarch, called in Arabic Haret il Batrak; it is separated from this castle by a high rampart by which it is surrounded.”

The construction of an enclosure around Dayr Abu Sayfayn was probably undertaken in the course of the twelfth century by a certain Ibn Abu al-Fada’il ibn Faruj. Butler (1884, pp. 75-76) remarked that “at the low square doorway of the enclosure one sees, swung back on its hinges, a ponderous door, plated with bands of iron and studded over with flattened bolt-heads. This iron casing stands out six inches from the wooden frame or backing, and fits closely into the doorway. A short dim passage leads by a turn to the left to Al ‘Adra; straight onwards it emerges from a sort of tunnel into a street about eight yards long, on one side of which are high dwelling-houses, on the other the churches of Shanudah and Abu-s- Sifain.”

Thus, the entrance gate of Dayr Abu Sayfayn was down to Butler’s time on the west side. Simaykah (1937, p. 75) said that the ring of high ramparts surrounding Dayr Abu Sayfayn had formerly only a single entrance on the west side, noting that “recently a new gate on the south side is used.” The door of sycamore wood reinforced by bands of iron was transferred to the in Old Cairo; in the inventory of the museum it bears the number 688 (ibid., pp. 19-20, 75; see also Coquin, 1974, p. 34).

Between the churches of Saint Mercurius and Saint Shenute one notices an ancient mosque, very confined and today no longer in use. It is probably the mosque of Ibn al-Hamid. Butler, in a sketch of Dayr Abu Sayfayn placed opposite the title page, drew attention to the crescent of the mosque, situated between the two churches, while Jullien, in a view of the dayr taken from the south, noted three crescents surmounting three cupolas (see Casanova, 1919, p. 193).


  • Butler, A. J. The Ancient Coptic Churches of Egypt, Vol. 1. Oxford, 1884.
  • Casanova, P. Essai de reconstitution topographique de la ville d’al Foustat ou Misr. Mémoires publiés par les membres de l’Institut français d’Archéologie orientale 35. Cairo, 1919.
  • Coquin, C. Les Edifices chrétiens du Vieux-Caire, Vol. 1, Bibliographie et topographie historiques. Bibliothèque d’études coptes 11. Cairo, 1974.
  • Jomard, M. “Description de la ville et de la citadelle du Caire.” In Description de l’Egypte moderne, Vol. 18, pt. 2. Paris, 1829. Jullien, M. L’Egypte: Souvenirs bibliques et chrétiens. Lille, 1891. Simaykah, M. H. Guide sommaire du Musée copte et des principales églises du Caire. Cairo, 1937.
  • Vansleb, J.-M. Nouvelle Relation en forme de journal d’un voyage fait en Egypt en 1672 et 1673. Paris, 1677.