DAYR AL-‘IZAM (Monastery of the Bones)
A former Coptic monastery, lying about halfway between al-Fustat (Old Cairo) and al-Matariyyah, on the site of the later mosque of al-Aqmar. The name refers to the bones of deceased monks who once belonged to it, preserved in the monastery—probably in special charnel houses—as is usual in other monasteries (for example, in the monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai). This name thus cannot be the right one, but only a description of the monastery that was usual in common parlance.
When Cairo was founded in 969 by the Fatimid commander Jawhar al-Rumi, the monastery was pulled down because it stood in the way of the planned caliph’s palace. Only the monastery well remained, and it was still known in the fifteenth century by the designation Bir al-‘Azamah, a corruption of Bir al-‘Izam (Ravaisse, 1887, p. 478). In compensation, a new monastery was built at the instance of Jawhar in the region of al- Khandaq, north of the Bab al-Nasr, to which the bones of the monks were also transferred. The latter is perhaps to be identified with the monastery of Mar Jirjis at al-Khandaq mentioned by Abu al- Makarim (The Churches, 1895, fol. 98b).
[See also: Dayr al-Khandaq.]
- Ravaisse, P. “Essai sur l’histoire et sur la topographie du Caire.” In Mémoires publiés par les membres de la mission archéologique française au Caire, Vol. 1, pt. 3. Cairo, 1887.