Dayr Al-Madinah



This small monastery is situated on the left bank of the Nile, opposite Luxor. The area around the dayr is known as West Thebes. The monastery was installed in the ruins of a small temple of the Ptolemaic period dedicated to the goddess Hathor. It was given its name, Monastery of the Town, no doubt because of its proximity to the town of Jeme, established in the Coptic era in the temple of Ramses III at MADINAT HABU. Because of the change in religion, the temple was used in other ways. This is the explanation given by Winlock and Crum (1926, Vol. 1, p. 8).

When the monastery was installed in the temple of Hathor, the temple was transformed into a church and received the name of the martyr Isidorus, as is shown by several inscriptions (Winlock and Crum, 1926, pt. 1, p. 8; Munier, 1918, p. 99, n. 3). In a small cemetery to the north of the monastery eleven tombs have been counted. Several things indicate that this monastery was flourishing at the same period as the DAYR EPIPHANIUS (that is, in the seventh century).

Its monks, or at least some of them, must have been weavers or tailors, for on the facade of the ancient temple are engraved instructions for the dimensions of various garments (Winlock and Crum, 1926, pt. 1, p. 9). These inscriptions have been published by E. Lepsius (1897-1913, Vol. 2, p. 102) and Sayce (1881-1882, pp. 117-23). On the state of the monastery at the beginning of the twentieth century, one may read the description of M. Jullien (1902, pp. 247-48) and G. Maspero (1911, pp. 145-51). On the excavations on this site, see E. Baraize (1914, pp. 19-42) and B. Bruyère in the Rapport sur les fouilles de Deir el-Médinah (1939-40), in particular that of January-March 1939. For a recent description, one may read Johann Georg (1930, p. 21) and O. Meinardus (1965, p. 314; 1977, p. 427).

[See also: Memnonia.]


  • Baraize, E. “Compte-rendu des travaux exécutés à Deir el- Médineh.” Annales du Service des antiquités de l’Egypte 13 (1914):19-42.
  • Bruyère, B. Rapport sur les fouilles de Deir el-Médineh (janvier- mars 1939). Fouilles de l’Institut français d’Archéologie orientale 20. Cairo, 1948-1952.
  • . “Fouilles de Deir el-Médineh.” Chronique d’Egypte 28 (1939):271-76.
  • Johann Georg, Duke of Saxony. Neue Streifzüge durch die Kirchen und Klöster Ägyptens. Leipzig and Berlin, 1930.
  • Jullien, M. “Le Culte chrétien dans les temples de l’antique Egypte.” Etudes 92 (1902):237-53.
  • Lepsius, E. Denkmäler aus Ägypten und Äthiopien . . . , 5 vols. Leipzig, 1897-1913; repr. Osnabrück, 1970-1971.
  • Maspéro, G. “Notes de voyage.” Annales du Service des antiquités de l’Egypte 10 (1910):5-13, 11 (1911):145-61.
  • Munier, H. “Les Actes du martyre de saint Isidore.” Bulletin de l’Institut français d’Archéologie orientale 14 (1918):97-190.
  • Sayce, A. H. “The Coptic Inscriptions of Beni-Hassan and Deir el- Medineh.” Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology 4 (1881-1882):117-23.
  • Winlock, H. E., and W. E. Crum. The Monastery of Epiphanius at Thebes, 2 vols. New York, 1926.



Art and Architecture

The monastery of Dayr al-Madinah is mixed up with the Ptolemaic temple at the site and the space included between it and the encircling wall of unbaked brick of the same period. That wall surrounds it at the foot of the north slope of the valley, in which farther to the west is located the village of the laborers of the pharaonic period. In this space on the north side of the temple, tombs of monks have been found, one of the characteristics of which is the enveloping of the bodies in a leather apron.

The entrance contrived in the thickness of the encircling wall on the east side allows one to see in the same line, 165 feet (50 m) away, the entrance to the temple itself. On the left of this entrance a seated personage has been copper-engraved full-face on a flat stone revetment. The figure is clothed in a pallium with oblique folds on the shoulders, over a tunic with wavy horizontal folds that fall to his feet. The right foot, covered with a sandal, is turned toward the right; the left is bare, with the toes clearly traced vertically. He is haloed, and a long stick with a knob rests upon his shoulder and projects above his head.

The stick is drawn obliquely and rests in front of the length of his right foot. The right arm rests on his right knee and rises to the height of his head, perhaps in a gesture of benediction. The left arm rests on the knee of the same side, holding an object that could be a vase. The features of the face cannot be identified. But under this figure, in a register of the same stone revetment, an inscription of the priest Paul mentions that he served the Church of Apa Isidorus the Martyr. Without doubt, this is the one to whom the monastery was dedicated.

The presence of monks on this site is attested by an important number of Coptic inscriptions that follow one another in fairly regular lines from register to register on the facade, sometimes covering two or three stones of it. These are for the most part funerary inscriptions, one of them even forming a chronological list of names of monks, with the indication of the day and month of their death.

Other isolated inscriptions are found on the outer face of the north wall, and another group is situated on the roof, composed of incised forms of feet, which, however, are isolated, and in which is also incised a name. One monk’s name is found incised on a plane surface under a Ptolemaic scene decorating the exterior face of the south wall of the temple.

Crosses, some elaborate and others very simple, as well as incised designs of birds or quadrupeds, very rough, stand out on the outer face of the north wall of the temple and on the interior face of the east part of the encircling wall.

It is remarkable—and this cannot be emphasized too much—that the Coptic monks never made any attempts to deface the Ptolemaic representations or inscriptions of this temple. For their own works and inscriptions, they used only the spaces left untouched by the previous occupants. This example of the respect they showed the past disproves allegations of vandalism leveled against the monks.


  • Baraize, E. “Compte-rendu des travaux exécutés a Deir el- Médineh.” Annales du Service des antiquités de l’Egypte 13 (1914):19-42.


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