Dayr Al-Jarnus (Maghagha)


This monastery—today a Christian village—is situated on the Nile’s left bank, but to the east of Bahr Yusuf, some 5 miles (8 km) to the north of al-Bahnasa. It is one of the places where the Holy Family in its flight from Herod is said to have made a halt on the way to al-ASHMUNAYN. In some texts this monastery is called Pei-Isus (Coptic) or Bayt Isus or Dayr Bisus (Arabic)—that is to say, “House of Jesus.” Other texts give al- Jarnus (the modern name) or Arganus (the ancient name).

The origin of this place-name is obscure, but it is clear that these are all the same place, for the localization is the same: near al-Bahnasa or near al-Nasara, and the date of its feast is identical, 25 Bashans. The well, an ancient NILOMETER, with its rite for predicting the height of the river’s inundation, was mentioned by several authors in relation to either Dayr al-Jarnus or Dayr Isus.

The oldest testimony is beyond doubt the homily of Cyriacus, bishop of al-Bahnasa, the Arabic version of which has come down to us (Graf, 1944, Vol. 1, p. 232). This text is certainly earlier than the Muslim conquest.

At the beginning of the thirteenth century, ABU SALIH THE ARMENIAN also mentioned the monastery of Bisus and its well.

The Ethiopian SYNAXARION (translated around 1397 on the basis of the Arabic Synaxarion) mentions Baysus at 24 Genbot/24 Bashans in the itinerary of the FLIGHT INTO EGYPT before al- Ashmunayn, and mentions the Nilometer-well, but the Arabic Synaxarion at 24 Bashans does not speak of it (Budge, 1928, Vol. 3, p. 924).

The OF THE PATRIARCHS of the Egyptian church (Vol. 2, pt. 3, pp. 227 [text], 361 [trans.], under the patriarch CYRIL II) speaks of the monastery of Bisus as a stage in the flight of the Holy Family before al-Ashmunayn.

Butrus ibn al-Rahib, at the end of the thirteenth century, also mentioned this monastery in his calendar of the Coptic feasts (Sidarus, 1975, pl. 7, 25 Bashans). A century later al-Qalqashandi cited it under the name of Isus (Coquin, 1975-1976, p. 402).

In 1442 al-MAQRIZI (1853, Vol. 2, p. 505) devoted a notice to Dayr Isus and indicated the significance of the name Jesus and that this is the Dayr Arjanus, the feast of which is on 25 Bashans; he also noted the rite of the well, which takes place on the night of that day. Ibn Iyas (d. 1524; 1955, Vol. 1, p. 187) also mentioned this monastery in almost the same terms as the preceding authors.

The monastery is also mentioned by travelers: J. M. VANSLEB (1677, pp. 69-71; 1678, pp. 42-43); B. de Maillet (1735, p. 63); C. Sicard (1982, Vol. 1, p. 46), who also wrote of the monastery of Jarnus and its well; and M. Jomard (1826, Vol. 18, pt. 1, p. 625), who described the village of al-Jarnus and the rite of the well, no doubt as it was at the time of Napoleon’s expedition.

The hegumenos ‘ABD AL-MASIH SALIB AL-MASU’DI (1924, p. 190) spoke of the water of the well, which is miraculous, and gave the date of 24 (instead of 25) Bashans as that of the feast.

The Church of the Virgin at al-Jarnus is still in existence (Clarke, 1912, p. 206, no. 17; Meinardus, 1962, pp. 3-34).


  • ‘Abd al-Masih Salib al-Masu‘di al-Baramusi. Kitab Tuhfat al-Sa’ilin fi Dhikr Adyirat Ruhban al-Misriyyin. Cairo, 1924.
  • Budge, E. A. W. The Book of the Saints of the Ethiopian Church, Vol. 3. Oxford, 1928.
  • Clarke, S. Christian Antiquities in the Nile Valley. London, 1912. Coquin, R.-G. “ Calendrier copte des fêtes de saints chez al-Qalqasandi.” Parole de l’Orient 6-7 (1975-1976):387-411.
  • Ibn Iyas. Journal d’un bourgeois du Caire, Vol. 1, trans. G. Wiet. Paris, 1955.
  • Jomard, M. “Memoire sur la vallée du Nil et la nilomètre de l’ile de Roudah.” In Description de l’Egypte, Vol. 18, pt. 1, pp. 556-643. Paris, 1826.
  • Maillet, B. de. Description de l’Egypte, ed. Abbè Mascrier. Paris, 1735.
  • Meinardus, O. “The Itinerary of the Holy Family in Egypt.” Studia  Collectanea 7 (1962):3-34.
  • Sicard, C. Oeuvres, Vol. 1, ed. S. Sauneron and M. Martin. Bibliothèque d’ètude 83. Cairo and Paris, 1982.
  • Sidarus, A. Y. Ibn ar-Rahibs, Leben und Werk. Islamkundliche
  • Untersuchungen 36. Freiburg, 1975.
  • Vansleb, J. Nouvelle relation en forme de journal d’un voyage fait en Egypte en 1672 et 1673. Paris, 1677. Translated as The Present State of Egypt. London, 1678.