DAYR AL-HAMMAM (Dayr Abu Ishaq)


This monastery is situated in the south of the Fayyum, on the desert rim of the Nile Valley, 5 miles (8 km) north of al-Lahun. It derives its two names from the proximity of the village of al- and from the martyr Isaac, no doubt Isaac al-Difrawi (province of Gharbiyyah), celebrated on 6 Bashans, to whom a small church was dedicated. The identification of the two names is suggested by the Book of the Hidden Pearls, which says: “Dayr Abu Ishaq: climb to the monastery starting from al-Hammam” (Daressy, 1917, p. 198). N. Abbott did not see that the two names indicated a single monastery (1937, pp. 57, 63-64).

The monastery seems very old, because traces of the original construction remain, but the buildings have been reconstructed. A collection of papyri was found by Flinders Petrie in 1889 and published by W. E. CRUM (1893, pp. 5-6). The documents recovered can be dated from the beginning of the eighth to the eleventh century. The existence of this monastery was attested by ABU SALIH THE ARMENIAN (fols. 73a-b; The Churches . . . 1895, p. 210). Al-MAQRIZI did not mention it, which may indicate the decline of the monastery by the fifteenth century.

Abu Salih described the principal church dedicated to the Virgin as large and similar to that of DAYR ANBA SAMU’IL OF QALAMUN and surrounded by a triple wall of stone. M. Jullien (1903, p. 257) depicted the church “with two apses which face one another as at Saint Simeon” in Aswan, noting columns and capitals. That church disappeared, and a new one was built at the beginning of the twentieth century (Teilhard de Chardin, 1907; Giamberardini, 1956). However, Johann Georg (1930, pp. 19-20) noted a door ornament and some capitals that he dated back to the sixth century. The present state is described by O. Meinardus (1965, pp. 233-34; 1977, pp. 457-58). OMAR TOUSSOUN mentioned a Dayr Afitam (1925, Vol. 1, p. 156) in the region of al-Hammam, which may be located here.


  • Abbott, N. The Monasteries of the . Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization 16. Chicago, 1937.
  • Crum, W. E. The Coptic Manuscripts Brought from the by 1893. W. M. Flinders Petrie. London,
  • Daressy, G. “Indicateur topographique du “Livre des perles enfouies et du mystère précieux.'” Bulletin de l’Institut français d’Archéologie orientale 13 (1917):175-230.
  • Giamberardini, G. “Itinerari e abitazioni di S. Antonio Abate—al- Fayyum.” La voce del Nilo 15 (1956):25-46.
  • Johann Georg, Duke of Saxony. Neue durch die Kirchen und Klöster Ägyptens. Leipzig and Berlin, 1930.
  • Jullien, M. “Quelques anciens couvents de l’Egypte.” Missions catholiques 35 (1903):257-58.
  • Meinardus, O. Christian Egypt, Ancient and Modern. Cairo, 1965; 2nd ed., 1977.
  • Omar Toussoun. Mémoire sur l’histoire du Nil, 3 vols. Mémoires de l’Institut d’Égypte 8-10. Cairo, 1925.
  • Salmon, G. “Répertoire géographique de la province du Fayyoûm d’après le Kitâb Târkîh al-Fayyoûm d’an-Nâboulsî.” Bulletin de l’Institut français d’Archéologie orientale 1 (1909):29-77.
  • Teilhard de Chardin, P. “Huit jours au Fayoum.” Relations d’Orient Dec. (1907):279.
  • Zeki, A. “Une Description du Fayyoum au VIIe s. H.” Bulletin de la Société khédiviale de géographie 5 (1899):253-95.




Although only the church now remains standing, an enormous mound of debris, with much pottery and fragments of brick, spreading over an extensive area, points to an earlier settlement of notable size. Today isolated remains of cemetery enclosures rise above the ground. The present-day dayr harbors within its outer wall, probably of quite recent vintage, a few empty shelters for pilgrims. The church situated in the northeast sector is still in use and may, in its present form, reach back to the Mamluk period. Remains of an older building are visible on the north side. That the history of the church began much earlier is shown by several decorative pieces that have been built over at various places.

The church still contains a khurus (the room between the naos and the sanctuary) deriving from the Fatimid period. As a result of the great breaches in the wall into the naos, however, it has largely been deprived of its spatial independence. It is connected with the central in the form of a triconch. The side rooms of the apse appear to have acquired their present function as subsidiary sanctuaries only in recent times.

The naos of the church is arranged on the plan of a cross-in- square building with four pillars, but this plan has been reduced to a single pair of pillars. In addition, the two sides are very differently formed, with a double pillar on the north and a massive single pillar on the south. West of the naos there was a later narthex, which evidently originally corresponded with the whole width of the church. Through the separating-off in modern times of two outer wing rooms, only a small central room remains. By means of several steps, this provides access between the outer level and the lower level inside the church.


  • Adli, S. “Several Churches in Upper Egypt.” Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts 36 (1980):4ff.
  • Meinardus, O. Christian Egypt, Ancient and Modern, pp. 333-34. Cairo, 1965; 2nd ed., 1977.