Dayr Al-‘Adhra’ (Samalut)

DAYR AL-‘ADHRA’ (Samalut)

This Monastery of the Virgin is also called Dayr al-Bakarah (Monastery of the Pulley) or Dayr Jabal al-Tayr (Monastery of the Mountain of the Bird), from the name of the mountain that dominates the Nile at that point and on which the monastery is perched opposite Samalut, on the right bank of the river. The first name derives from the fact that provisions and visitors were hoisted by means of a pulley across a crevasse that runs the height of the cliff. At the end of the tenth or beginning of the eleventh century, al-Shabushti (pp. 23, 28) noted this monastery for its picturesque character and reported the legend of the birds that came in a group on the day of the monastery’s festival. They remained there until one of them caught its beak in the crevasse and could not pull it out. In the list of the places through which the Holy Family passed, the of the Patriarchs (1959, Vol. 2, pt. 3, pp. 227 [text], 361 [trans.]) mentioned the Jabal al-Kaff.

At the beginning of the thirteenth century ABU SALIH (1895, pp. 217-19) gave it the name Jabal al-Kaff (Mountain of the Palm) because, according to legend, at the time of the FLIGHT INTO EGYPT, the mountain prostrated itself before Jesus, and when he raised it up, his palm remained graven in the rock. He also indicated that the church is hollowed into the mountain, but that there are two churches, an upper and a lower. He adds that the Frankish Crusaders in 1168 carried off the part of the rock on which the palm of Jesus was engraved and took it away to Syria. The monastery and its church were dedicated to the Holy Virgin.

Al-MAQRIZI (d. 1441), indicating that access to the monastery could also be gained from the north by a staircase hollowed into the rock, contented himself with quoting al- Shabushti and the legend of the birds (1853, Vol. 2, pp. 503-504).

In 1597 a monk-priest of the monastery named Gabriel was one of the delegation sent by the patriarch GABRIEL VIII (1586-1601) to VIII to present the Act of Union between the Coptic and Roman churches (Buri, 1931; Graf, 1951, Vol. 4, pp. 120-22; see also DAYR AL-MUHARRAQ, near ASYUT).

The site is noted by all the travelers because it was picturesque (Vansleb, 1677, p. 357; 1678, pp. 214-15; Lucas, 1719, Vol. 2, pp. 158-60). Unfortunately this monastery has had little attention from archaeologists. The plan of the church was drawn up by Curzon (1849, pp. 121-28); it was reproduced by A. G. Butler (1884, pp. 348-50), U. Monneret de Villard (1925, Vol. 1, no. 105), and A. Badawy (1947, pp. 372-73). This plan appears seriously deficient; for example, it ignores the richly decorated west door, which could go back to the fifth or sixth century, according to E. Pauty (1942, pp. 87-88).

The apse of the church, hewn into the rock, recalls the rock churches of the region of Antinoë (ANTINOOPOLIS). It may have been originally fitted up in a quarry, across which the vault was later thrown, which would explain Abu Salih’s remark about the upper and lower churches. The traces of the ancient buildings and the way of access from the north indicated by al-Maqrizi, marked by numerous pilgrim crosses carved in the rock, have also not been examined. C. Butler (Palladius, 1898-1904, Vol. 1, p. 222) places here the community of Pithirion, but this is not very likely, for the Jabal al-Tayr is too far to the south and close to Achoris (TIHNAH AL-JABAL).

Doresse (1970, p. 13) situates here the of the monk Abu Fis, whose name the town of Minya formerly bore (Minia Abu Fis). A church there was dedicated to this saint (Abu Salih, 1895, pp. 223-24). The present state of the monastery is given by O. Meinardus (1965, pp. 362-64; 1977, pp. 258-59).


  • Badawy, A. Les Premières églises d’Egypte jusqu’au siècle de St. Cyrille, in Kyrilliana, pp. 321-80. Cairo, 1947.
  • Buri, V. “L’unione della chiesa copta con Roma sotto Clemente VIII.” Orientalia Christiana 23, 2, no. 72 (1931):101-264.
  • Butler, A. G. The Ancient Coptic Churches of Egypt, 2 vols. Oxford, 1884.
  • Curzon, R. Visit to Monasteries in the Levant. New York, 1849. London, 1865.
  • Doresse, J. “Monastères coptes de moyenne Egypte.” Bulletin de la Société française d’égyptologie 59 (1970):7-29.
  • Lucas, Paul. Troisième Voyage du Paul Lucas fait en MDCCXIV par ordre de Louis XIV dans la Turquie, l’Asie, la Sourie, la Palestine, la haute et basse Egypte, Vol. 3. Rouen, 1719.
  • Maspero, J., and G. Wiet. “Matériaux pour servir à la géographie d’Egypte.” Mémoires de l’Institut française d’Archéologie orientale 36 (1919): passim.
  • Meinardus, O. Egypt, Ancient and Modern. Cairo, 1965; 2nd ed., 1977.
  • Monneret de Villard, U. Les Couvents près de Sohag, Vol. 1. Milan, 1925.
  • Pauty, E. “Chronique.” Bulletin de la Société d’archéologie copte 7 (1941):87-88.
  • Shabushti, al-. “Some Egyptian Monasteries,” ed. A. S. Atiya. Bulletin de la Société d’archéologie copte 5 (1939):1-28.
  • Vansleb, J. M. Nouvelle Relation en forme de journal d’un voyage fait en Egypte en 1672 et 1673. Paris, 1677. Translated as The . London, 1678.