Dayr Anba Bisadah

DAYR ANBA BISADAH

History

This monastery, on the right bank of the Nile in the village of al- Ahaywah Sharq, about 11 miles (18 km) south of Akhmim, preserves the memory and the relics of a martyr bishop in the fourth century, PSOTE. He was bishop of the town of Psoi/Ptolemais, which at least in the Byzantine era was the place of residence, along with Antinoë (ANTINOOPOLIS), of the dux, the military and also civil chief of the province of the Thebaid, whose powers extended as far as Aswan.

The life of this bishop has come down to us in Latin, a rare thing, and this text, which does not present the embellishments of too many saints’ lives, says that he was buried to the east of the town of Psoi. There is every reason to believe that the present monastery was built over the tomb of this bishop, for the monastery, which still exists and is frequented as a place of pilgrimage (Muyser and Viaud, 1979, p. 59), is in fact situated in the stony area on the right bank of the Nile, opposite al-Manshiyyah, a small town that perpetuates the ancient Psoi or Ptolemais Hermou of the Hellenistic period.

The recension of the Coptic SYNAXARION from Upper Egypt, which no doubt summarizes a more ancient Coptic text, indicates the antiquity of the monastery. A of Saint Claudius, attributed to the patriarch SEVERUS OF ANTIOCH, mentions on the right bank and to the south of Abydos the monastery of the martyr bishop Psote. If the manuscripts that have handed down this text are of the ninth century, the tradition that they transmit is certainly older, but the date of the foundation of this monastery cannot be fixed with certainty (Godron, PO 35, p. 500).

This monastery was provided with an enclosure and is a true cenobium. The present buildings, according to local tradition, are of the thirteenth century, but include ancient elements.

Al-MAQRIZI did not fail to point it out (1853, Vol. 2, p. 504; correct the Bulaq edition and read Absadah instead of Abshadah).

Some travelers drew attention to it from the eighteenth century on. R. Pococke (1743-1745, p. 81) mentioned it, calling it Embabsag, but the description and location that he gave do not lend themselves to any confusion. Likewise, M. JULLIEN (1903, pp. 274-76, with three photos) gave a good description of it (cf. Martin, 1972, pp.

127-28). Martin’s information is more precise than that published by H. Munier (1940, pp. 155-56). O. Meinardus (1965, pp. 299-300; 1977, pp. 411-12) furnished an exact description.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Godron, G. Texte coptes relatifs à saint Claude d’Antioche. In PO 35. Turnhout, 1970.
  • Jullien, M. “Quelques anciens couvents de l’Egypte.” Missions catholiques 35 (1903):188-90; 198-202; 212-14; 237-40; 250- 52; 257-58; 274-76; 283-84.
  • Martin, M. “Notes inédites du P. Jullien sur trois monastères chrétiens d’Egypte: Dêr Abou Fâna, le couvent des ‘sept montagnes,’ Dêr amba Bisâda.” Bulletin de l’Institut français d’Archéologie orientale 71 (1972):119-28.
  • Meinardus, O. Christian Egypt, Ancient and Modern. Cairo, 1965; 2nd ed., 1977.
  • Munier, H. “Les Monuments coptes d’après les explorations du Père Michel Jullien.” Bulletin de la Société d’archéologie copte 6 (1940):141-68.
  • Muyser, J., and G. Viaud. Les Pèlerinages coptes en Egypte. Cairo, 1979.
  • Orlandi, T. Il dossier copto del Martire Psote. Testi e documenti per lo studio dell’antichità 61. Milan, 1978.
  • Pococke, R. A Description of the East and Some Other Countries. London, 1743-1745.

RENÉ-GEORGES COQUIN

MAURICE MARTIN, S. J.

Architecture

A walled enclosure contains the priest’s house, some minor structures, and, on the east, the church. It has an elaborate doorway surmounted by a small stone slab with a cross in relief and surrounded by lozenge-shaped bricks, some combined to form stars. This doorway opens into an irregularly shaped narthex that belongs to a secondary building period. Behind the narthex lies the oldest part, the remains of a triconch. There is no visible evidence as to whether the church was originally centralized, like the church of DAYR MAR TUMAS, north of Akhmim, or naved and later truncated, like DAYR ANBA BAKHUM, also near Akhmim.

What remains is the eastern apse, a short stretch of the wall of the southern side apse, and, between them, an irregularly shaped room that formed the corner of the first church. This room contains a tomb said to be of Anba Bisadah. The original stone doorway into the room survives. It has a carved lintel, and traces of carving remain on the southern jamb. The plan of the church could be early Christian, but the poor construction caused P. Grossmann (1980, p. 306) to suggest a later date. O. Meinardus records a traditional thirteenth-century date. The additions to the church show some relationship to the plans of DAYR ABU SAYFAYN, DAYR DIMYANAH (both in Akhmim), and DAYR MAR AL- HADIDI, but were executed in a more asymmetrical manner and include a number of unusual features. Four more sanctuaries have been added, two north of the main sanctuary and two south of the room containing Anba Bisadah’s grave.

A solid wooden iconastasis stands in front of each altar. There are single bays in front of each of the two northern sanctuaries and double bays in front of each of the southern sanctuaries. Beyond the sanctuaries on each side are corridors. The one on the south turns back to a well at the east. Further to the east are a row of rooms. One, accessible from the room containing Anba Bisadah’s tomb, contains a font.

The others, accessible only from above, have been used for burial. In the southwest corner of the church, a stairway leads to an upper room for women worshipers, screened off from the rest of the church by a brick wall pierced with irregular openings. There is a small, LAQQAN to the right of the church door. Whitewashing obscures further structural details of the interior.

The earliest visible structure may belong to the early medieval period.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Grossman, P. “Survey Arbeiten im Raum von Ahmim.” Archiv für Orientforschung 27 (1980):304-306.
  • Meinardus, O. Christian Egypt, Ancient and Modern, pp. 299-300. Cairo, 1965.
  • Munier, H. “Les Monuments coptes d’après les explorations du Père Michel Jullien.” Bulletin de la Société d’archéologie copte 6 (1940):141-68.
  • Timm, S. Das christlich-koptische Agypten in arabischer Zeit, Vol. 2, pp. 660-61. Wiesbaden, 1984.

SHELA MCNALLY