Dayr Al-Malak Mikha’il (Fayyum)


The ruins of this monastery are still visible in the district of Ibshaway, in the west of the Fayyum, in the desert some distance from the village of al- Hamuli (Meinardus, 1965, pp. 335-36; 1977, pp. 462-63).

In the manuscripts deriving from this monastery, its position is given in terms that differ according to the period, the neighboring village having no doubt changed its name. In the oldest, the monastery is placed “on the border of the desert of the Mone [way station, halting place] of Alli or of Perkethaut,” but in the most recent, from the end of the ninth century, “on the border of the desert of Sôpehes” (van Lantschoot, 1929, pp. 7-8).

The existence of this monastery was revealed by a chance discovery in the autumn of 1910, dug up by fellahin in search of sibakh (fertilizer deriving from the decomposition of organic matter in a kom). Details of the precise circumstances are unfortunately lacking. As often happens in such cases, the finders divided their discovery of writings from an important Coptic library into small lots, breaking up several manuscripts in the hope of securing a larger profit. Hence, it is not known exactly how many were found intact in the hiding place: fifty-eight according to Tisserant (1950, p. 219), but sixty according to Hyvernat (1919, p. xiii).

A large number of volumes were reassembled by an antique dealer and sent to Paris, where they were bought by an American patron, J. Pierpont Morgan, in 1911. Other manuscripts, more or less complete, were bought by him later. They are now deposited in the Library in New York. However, five manuscripts and some isolated leaves remained in Egypt and are now preserved in in Cairo.

Unfortunately, systematic excavation could not be carried out at the site. The only information available about this monastery is given by the colophons, the notes added by the copyists or by readers at the end of the manuscripts: they were published by van Lantschoot (1929, nos. 1-50). Twenty manuscripts are dated between A.D. 823 and 914, but none of the undated is later than 914. This indicates at least that the monastery was flourishing during this period. In a Bohairic manuscript from al-Natrun at the Vatican (Coptic 68, fol. 162v), a reader has added a note dated 25 Misra 730 of Diocletian (i.e., 18 August A.D. 1014).

The deacon Joseph, a native of Tutun in the Fayyum, related that he went to DAYR ANBA MAQAR (Monastery of Saint Macarius) at the time when the churches and monasteries in the Fayyum were destroyed in the early eleventh century during the reign of al-Hakim (Hebbelynck and Van Lantschoot, 1937, Vol. 1, pp. 510-11; Evelyn-White, 1932, pp. 343-45). In fact, no dated Coptic manuscript written in the Fayyum after A.D. 1007 survives. It therefore seems that the Monastery of Saint Michael at Sôpehes was destroyed at the time of this persecution and that before taking flight, the monks hid their library just where the fellahin found it in 1910.

In addition to the names of the copyists, many of them natives of Tutun, these make known five archimandrites of the monastery: Damien in 822-823; Cosmas and Khael (Michael), two PROESTOS, curiously named together, in 854-855; John in 889 and again no doubt shortly before 901; and Elias at the beginning of the tenth century.

Two other monasteries in the Fayyum are mentioned, the existence of which would not otherwise be known: that of Saint George at Narmoute (MADINAT MADI), in the south of the Fayyum, and that of Saint Epima of Pshante, also at Narmoute, with its archimandrite Papios in 871-872. Also mentioned is the deacon Apa Ioulei, monk of this monastery and master of the school. This provides indirect evidence for a school in this monastery (van Lantschoot, 1929, nos. 13, 26, 44, 49).


  • Evelyn-White, H. G. The Monasteries of the Wadi’n Natrun, Pt. 2, The History of the Monasteries of Nitria and Scetis. New York, 1932.
  • Gaselee, S. “ Egypt.” In Report, ed. F. L. Griffith, p. 19. 1909-1910.
  • Hebbelynck, A., and A. van Lantschoot. Coptici, Vol. 1, Coptici Vaticani. Vatican City, 1937.
  • Hyvernat, H. “The J. P. Morgan Collection of Coptic Manuscripts.” Journal of Biblical Literature 31 (1912):54-57.
  • . “Coptic Literature: The Morgan Collection.” In The Catholic , Vol. 16, pp. 27-29. New York, 1914.
  • . A Check List of in the  Library. New York, 1919.
  • Lantschoot, A. van. Recueil des des manuscrits chrétiens d’Égypte, Vol. 1, Les coptes des manuscrits sahidiques. du Muséon 1. Louvain, 1929.
  • Meinardus, O. Egypt, Ancient and Modern. Cairo, 1965; 2nd ed., 1977.
  • Petersen, T. “The Paragraph Mark in Coptic Illuminated Ornament.” In Studies in and Literature for Belle da Costa Greene, pp. 295-330 (for the Morgan Library, pp. 310-24). Princeton, 1954.
  • Tisserant, E. “Notes sur la restauration à la Vaticane des manuscrits coptes de la Library.” In Coptic Studies in Honor of Walter Ewing Crum, pp. 219-27. Boston, 1950.