DAYR AL-MAGHTIS or Dabra Metmaq
Al-MAQRIZI indicated that this monastery stood “beside the saline marshes, near the Lake of al-Burullus . . . and in the neighborhood is the salt-marsh from which the Rashidic [Rosetta] salt is obtained” (1845, pp. 44-45 [text], 108-109 [trans.]; 1853, Vol. 2, p. 508). He later indicated that DAYR AL-‘ASKAR is one day’s march from Dayr al-Maghtis, but al-‘Askar was quite near present-day Bilqas, in the northeast of the province of Gharbiyyah. This would locate Dayr al-Maghtis to the north of Bilqas in the neighborhood of Abu Madi, on the shores of the Lake of al-Burullus.
This monastery played an important part in the medieval period of the Coptic church. The Ethiopian SYNAXARION, in its second recension at the end of the sixteenth or the beginning of the seventeenth century, for the 24 Genbot/24 Bashans account of the Holy Family’s FLIGHT INTO EGYPT, identifies the place where Jesus left his footprint on a stone (Bi Kha Isus, or Jesus’ heel, in the Coptic Synaxarion) with Dabra Metmaq—that is, the Monastery of the Pool, or Dayr al-Maghtis in Arabic (Budge, 1928, Vol. 3, p. 923). In the Synaxarion account of the flight into Egypt, the episode of Jesus’ heel is placed after the crossing of the Damietta branch of the Nile at Samannud. This indication from the Ethiopian Synaxarion thus agrees with al-Maqrizi’s statement.
In ABU AL-MAKARIM’s work at the beginning of the thirteenth century, the same identification is given, although the name Dayr al-Maghtis is not specifically mentioned. However, according to the author, a miracle happened at Minyat Tanah on the day of the Epiphany. It occurred in a pool inside a church of an unnamed monastery where the miraculous stone bearing the footprint of Jesus was kept until it disappeared at the time of the Arab conquest (Abu al-Makarim, 1984, pp. 70-71). The article on CYRIL II in the HISTORY OF THE PATRIARCHS places Minyat Tanah, the place where the Synaxarion mentions Bi Kha Isus (Bisus), after Bastah in the list of stages of the flight into Egypt (HISTORY OF THE PATRIARCHS, 1959, Vol. 2, pt. 3, pp. 227 [text], 361 [trans.]). The identification of Dayr Minyat Tanah, Bi Kha Isus, and Dayr al-Maghtis with one another is evident.
Philuthawus ‘Awad (Simaykah, 1932, Vol. 2, p. 224) thought that this monastery was near DAYR SITT DIMYANAH and that it disappeared under the rising water level of the Lake of al-Burullus. M. Ramzi (1954, Vol. 1, p. 309) thought that Minyat Tanah was at the site of the farm of Dayr Sitt Dimyanah, about 6 miles (10 km) to the north of Bilqas. Neither writer took account of the statements of al-Maqrizi.
Noted above was the tradition linking Dayr al-Maghtis and the flight into Egypt. At some unknown point in the Middle Ages, this monastery became a very important pilgrimage center, as the Book of Mary’s Miracles in its Ethiopian recension recounts. A resume of this work dealing with Dayr al-Maghtis is inserted in the Ethiopian Synaxarion for 21 Genbot/21 Bashans (Budge, 1928, Vol. 3, pp. 917-18). The Book of Mary’s Miracles is a compilation of accounts concerning Dabra Metmaq and, in particular, the Virgin’s appearances on a luminous boat on 21 Genbot/21 Bashans. This is clearly translated from Arabic, but unfortunately, the Arabic original has been lost.
Al-Maqrizi recorded that people went there on pilgrimage from all over Egypt as much as to the Church of the Resurrection at Jerusalem and that the feast of the appearance of the Virgin is in the month of Bashans. He adds that this monastery was destroyed in Ramadan of A.H. 841/A.D. 1438, a date that corresponds exactly with the data of the Ethiopian Book of the Miracles of Mary (Cerulli, 1943, pp. 143-44), which attributes this destruction by fire to the Mamluk sultan Barsbay al-Malik al-Ashraf Sayf al-Din. In 1441 the patriarch JOHN XI sent an embassy led by Michael, the bishop of Sandafa (near al-Mahallah al-Kubra), on whom Dayr al-Maghtis then depended, to Ethiopia to warn the negus Zar‘a Ya‘qob (1434-1468). This bishop and this embassy are unknown elsewhere (Munier, 1943; Wiet, 1938).
Several similarities will be noted between these appearances of the Virgin and saints at Dayr al-Maghtis and those of Dayr Sitt Dimyanah: they take place at the same time of the year, in the month of Bashans; the monasteries are not far from one another, being in the same region of the Delta; and, although here and there the Virgin appears even more than at Sitt Dimyanah, the duration of the appearances is similar: five days at Dayr al-Maghtis, three days at Dayr Sitt Dimyanah.
Appearances of the same type were taking place in other churches of the Delta at the beginning of the thirteenth century, according to the HISTORY OF THE PATRIARCHS (1974, Vol. 4, pt. 1, pp. 23 [text], 48-49 [trans.]). One might propound the hypothesis that after the fire at Dayr al-Maghtis in 1438, the pilgrimage of the month of Bashans was moved to Dayr Jimyanah (which had become Dayr Sitt Dimyanah), which would explain the spread of the cult of Saint Jimyanah (or Dimyanah, according to the two well-attested spellings).
- Abu al-Makarim. Tarikh al-Kana’is wa-al-Adyirah, ed. Samu’il al- Suryani. Cairo, 1984.
- Amélineau, E. La Géographie de l’Egypte à l’époque copte, p. 259. Paris, 1893. (This cites Minyat Tanah, but places it too far south.)
- Budge, E. A. W. The Book of the Saints of the Ethiopian Church, 4 vols. Cambridge, 1928.
- Cerulli, E. Il libro etiopico dei miracoli di Maria. Studi orientali pubblicati a cura della Scuola Orientale 1. Rome, 1943.
- Munier, H. Recueil des listes épiscopales de l’église copte. Cairo, 1943.
- Muyser, J., and G. Viaud. Les Pèlerinages coptes en Egypte, pp. 10-11. Bibliothèque d’études coptes 15. Cairo, 1979.
- Ramzi, M. Al-Qamus al-Jughrafi lil-Bilad al Misriyyah, 3 vols. Cairo, 1953-1968.
- Simaykah, M. Dalil al-Mathaf al-Qibti, Vol. 2. Cairo, 1932.
- Wiet, G. “Les Relations égypto-abyssines sous les sultans mamlouks.” Bulletin de la Société d’archéologie copte 4 (1938):115-40.