The “Monastery of the Bones” is bounded on three sides by a cemetery (whence, no doubt, its name), today in disorder. It is situated on the desert plateau that dominates the necropolis of ASYUT, about 2 miles (3 km) southwest of the mausoleum of Shaykh Abu Tuq.

A jar found in situ bears a Coptic inscription dated 1156 and naming the site “Apa John of the Desert” (Maspero, 1900; Crum, 1902, no. 8104, pl. 1; Wiet, Vol. 2, cols. 1053-54). The same expression is found in a number of the Coptic texts (Kahle, 1954, Vol. 1, pp. 22ff.; van Lantschoot, 1929, Vol. 1, pt. 2, p. 33; Crum, 1902, Vol. 2, no. 84). This is certainly what was transcribed into Arabic by ABU SALIH THE ARMENIAN at the beginning of the thirteenth century: “the Monastery of Abu Yuhannis, called Ibshay” (this last word being the transcription of the Coptic pdjaie, the desert).

One thinks naturally of JOHN OF LYCOPOLIS, of whom the HISTORIA MONACHORUM IN AEGYPTO (Chapt. 1, pp. 9-35) and the Historia lausiaca of PALLADIUS (Vol. 2, chap. XXXV) speak. The first speaks of 5 miles between Asyut and the hermitage of John; the second, of 3 miles only. John being a recluse, it is understandable that he should have chosen a site so remote in the desert; it is the only example in the region. It is possible that this is the “Monastery of Seven Mountains” mentioned by al-MAQRIZI (1853, p. 506), although he placed it under the name of JOHN COLOBOS, a frequent in al-Maqrizi and the Coptic authors. He added that it was destroyed in A.H. 821/A.D. 1418.

Modern descriptions of the site are given by Jollois and Devilliers (1820-1826, Vols. 4, pp. 154-56, and 15, p. 201, n. 1), M. Jullien (1901, p. 208), S. Clarke (1912, pp. 178-79), and O. Meinardus (1965, p. 283; 1977, pp. 392-93).


  • Bock, V. de. Matériaux pour l’archéologie chrétienne de l’Egypte. St. Petersburg, 1901.
  • Clarke, S. in the Nile Valley. Oxford, 1912. Crum, W. E. Coptic Monuments. Cairo, 1902.
  • Jollois, J. B. P., and R. E. du Terrage Devilliers, in Description d’Egypte, Vols. 4 and 15. Paris, 1821-1829.
  • Jullien, M. “A travers les ruines de la Haute Egypte.” Etudes 88 (1901):204-217.
  • Kahle, P. Bala’izah, 2 vols. London, 1954.
  • Lantschoot, A. van. Recueil des colophons des manuscrits chrétiens d’Egypte. Bibliothèque du Muséon 1. Louvain, 1929.
  • Maspéro, G. “Les Fouilles du Deir al-Aizam.” Annales du Service des de l’Egypte 1 (1900):109-119, with plan.
  • Meinardus, O. Christian Egypt, Ancient and Modern. Cairo, 1965; 2nd ed., 1977.
  • Wiet, G. “Kibt.” In l’Encyclopédie de l’Islam, Vol. 2, pp. 1048-61. Leiden, 1927.
  • Winlock, H. E., and W. E. Crum. The Monastery of Epiphanius at Thebes, 2 vols. New York, 1926.




The monastery was destroyed in the late 1960s by units of the Egyptian army stationed in the immediate area. According to an old survey plan of 1901 (de Bock, 1901, pp. 88-90, fig. 100), it was surrounded by an irregular wall, inside which were a and a keep (jawsaq), in addition to the remains of a few insignificant residential for the monks.

The was a long building and, according to the plan, appears to have been set out as a basilica with three aisles. Between the naos and the actual sanctuary a khurus (room between the naos and the sanctuary) was added, as has been the custom since the eighth century, particularly in the churches of monasteries. An apse was no longer even at this time. Worthy of note is the curve in a northerly direction in the sanctuary area.

The keep, located on a raised terrace on the north wall, had a square ground plan and was divided into four chambers, with the stair in the southeast. The entrance, therefore, lay either on the south or on the east side. Typologically this keep still belongs to the older examples.


  • Bock, V. de. Matériaux pour servir à l’archéologie chrétienne de l’Egypte, pp. 18-20. St. Petersburg, 1901.
  • Clarke, S. in the Nile Valley, p. 178. Oxford, 1912.
  • Crum, W. E. Coptic Monuments. Cairo, 1902.
  • Grossmann, P. Mittelalterliche Langhauskuppelkirchen und verwandte Typen in Oberägypten, p. 109, fig. 43. Glückstadt, 1982.