DAYR AL-NAQLUN or Dayr al-Malak Ghubriyal
By the middle of the third century, Christianity was well established in the oasis of the Fayyum. EUSEBIUS mentioned Bishop Nepos of the Fayyum, who in the first half of the third century was known for his millennial interpretation of the Scriptures. During the Diocletian persecution, Theophilus, Patricia, Bartholomew and his wife, and Abba Kaw, together with five hundred to eight hundred Christians, suffered martyrdom in the Fayyum. Saint ANTONY is reported to have visited the region, where he made many monks, “confirming them in the Law of God.” By the fourth century, monasticism was as much developed in the Fayyum as in the Nile Valley.
The foundation of the LAURA of al- Naqlun, southeast of the Fayyum, is related to the Coptic legend of Aur, the illegitimate son of the queen’s daughter and Abrashit the magician. Throughout this story, the angel GABRIEL appears as the guardian of Aur, who was led to the Mountain of al-Naqlun, where he built a Church of Saint Gabriel. Later, Aur was ordained priest and consecrated bishop. From the fourth to the sixth centuries, the Monastery of Saint Gabriel (Dayr al-Malak Ghubriyal) of al-Naqlun was the leading monastic center in the Fayyum.
With the emergence of the Monastery of al-Qalamun under Saint SAMUEL, the al-Naqlun monastery was gradually pushed into the background, and by the seventh century al-Qalamun surpassed al- Naqlun in importance. In the middle of the tenth century only one monk inhabited the Monastery of Saint Gabriel.
A renaissance occurred in the twelfth century, for ABU SALIH THE ARMENIAN referred to two churches, those of Saint Michael and Saint Gabriel. According to medieval tradition, the Old Testament patriarch Jacob enjoyed the shade here, and by the twelfth century the relics of Abba Kaw were venerated at this monastery. The fifteenth century saw the decline of the Monastery of al-Naqlun.
When J. M. VANSLEB visited the Fayyum in 1672, he found the Monastery of al-Naqlun almost completely ruined, though the Church of Saint Gabriel was still adorned with wall paintings depicting scenes from the Holy Scriptures. The church was rebuilt at the beginning of the twentieth century by Bishop Abraam, the first bishop of the Fayyum oasis. Ever since, the church has served as a place for occasional services. For the annual mawlid (festival) of Saint Gabriel pilgrims from the Fayyum and the region around Bani Suef gather in large numbers in and around the monastery.
Noteworthy are the numerous Corinthian capitals used in the construction of the church. The icons have been ascribed to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. There is also a well-preserved Jerusalem proskynitarion (a hagiographical-topological painting of the Holy City). Southeast of the Monastery of al-Naqlun, on the slopes of the Naqlun mountain range, are numerous one- and two- room caves, which at one time were inhabited by hermits and belonged to the laura of al-Naqlun. The laura of al-Naqlun is mentioned in the story of Aur: “This mountain shall prosper, and shall become as crowded as a dovecote by reason of the immense multitudes of people who shall come to visit it from all countries of the earth, and their prayers shall mount up to God.”
- Abbott, N. The Monasteries of the Fayyum, pp. 22-66. Chicago, 1937.
- Amélineau, E. Les Actes des martyrs de l’église Copte, pp. 69-71. Paris, 1890.
- Budge, E. A. W. The Book of the Saints of the Ethiopian Church, Vol. 1, p. 263. Cambridge, 1928.
- . Egyptian Tales and Romances, pp. 12, 29, 247-63. London, 1931.
- Johann Georg, Duke of Saxony. Neue Streifzüge durch die Kirchen und Klöster Ägyptens, p. 19. Berlin, 1930.
- Meinardus, O. “The Laura of Naqlun.” Bulletin de la Société de géographie d’Egypte 40 (1967):173-85.
Of the old monastery buildings of al-Naqlun, only parts of the walls and the church today remain standing. The hermits’ cells in the rock caves of the surrounding Naqlun mountains are abandoned. There is now a necropolis in the area of the monastery. The church itself has been much altered, but is still in use, and now serves in particular for pilgrims attending the annual festival of Saint Gabriel.
The church’s architectural form suggests that it dates from the seventh or eighth century. It is built of burnt brick and arranged on the plan of a basilica with three aisles. The ground plan, however, has come out rather askew. The apse and the outer walls on the north and south are certainly original. At the north end of the original narthex, there was a stairway to the gallery and the rooms above the sanctuary. The columns—all of them spolia (plundered from earlier monuments) with limestone Corinthian capitals— probably no longer stand in their original places. The western row of columns is walled up by a later part or wall. Also uncertain is the original form of the side rooms to the apse. Various factors suggest that there was once a broad forechoir in front of the apse. The side chambers of the apse would then have had the form of a gamma.
A long hall divided by several transverse arches was built against the northern side of the church, probably in the Fatimid period, and in more recent times the sanctuary was provided with a khurus (room between the naos and the sanctuary). The ground plan looks like a refectory. Later its eastern bay was linked with the interior of the church and rebuilt into a baptistery. However, it is also possible that here is the second church of the monastery mentioned by Abu Salih (ed. Evetts, pp. 205-206) and Vansleb (pp. 275-276).
During excavations in the 1980s in the area of the monastery that were carried out by a mission of the Polish Archaeological Center in Cairo, some new buildings were unearthed. One is described as a towerlike structure with very thick walls and with an apse originally projecting on the eastern side. Later in this same building a small basilica-shaped church was installed, with three aisles and an eastern khurus in front of the apse.
The clearing of some of the caves in the mountains produced a number of typical hermitages. They contain several irregularly shaped chambers with cooking places and store rooms in the entrance hall.
- Abbott, N. The Monasteries of the Fayyum, pp. 46ff. Chicago, 1937. Adli, S. “Several Churches in Upper Egypt.” Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Abteilung Kairo 36 (1980):2f., fig. 1.
- Grossmann, P. Mittelalterliche Langhauskuppelkirchen und verwandte Typen in Oberägypten, p. 121, fig. 49. Glückstadt, 1982.
- Vansleb, J. M. 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.