This famous monastery stands about 2 miles (3 km) to the north of DAYR ANBA SHINUDAH. As with Anba Shinudah, nothing remains but the church, which is built of red bricks and thus gives the monastery the popular nickname Dayr al-Ahmar (the Red Monastery). It is not known if Anba Bishoi was the founder or only the holy anchorite in honor of whom the monastery was built.

It will be noted that in the typika (calendars) of the neighboring Monastery of Anba Shinudah, Anba Bishoi is called only “anchorite,” not archimandrite. What is known of him is supplied by the Sahidic recension of the Coptic SYNAXARION at 5 Amshir. Anba Shinudah, at the age of only five years, was entrusted by his father to Anba PJOL (Bajul in Arabic), his maternal uncle, who lived as a hermit on the “mountain” of Atrib. He had a companion who was called Pshoi (in Arabic, Bishoi). The latter was also named Peter.

This detail is also found in a sermon of JOHN OF SHMUN in the sixth or seventh century (Orlandi, 1968, p. 18). All three built cells (not “celliers” as Basset translates, for the word khizanah is given as the equivalent of ri, cell, by Crum, 1939), which were still in existence when this recension was compiled. Near their cells they built a church that they called the raghamah. This strange word is found three times in the Arabic life of Shinudah, and in the three cases it is the Coptic parallel toou (mountain or desert) that is thus rendered (Amélineau, 1886-1888, Vol. 4, pp. 418, 437, 474).

One might then think that this church was in some sense that “of the mountain.” In fact, the archaeologist V. de Bock found a cave containing inscriptions and drawings of monks or hermits about 2 miles (3 km) to the south of the DAYR ANBA SHINUDAH. One wonders if these are the ruins of this first church (de Bock, 1901, pp. 68-69; Jullien, 1903, pp. 257-58). W. M. F. Petrie also points out the ruins of a monastery of brick at the foot of the mountain. The monks of that monastery seem to have decorated the neighboring rock tombs (Crum, 1907-1908, p. 72).

What was the name of the place where Anba and his nephew Anba Shinudah and Anba Pshoi lived in harmony? The Coptic Life of Shinudah, written by his disciple and successor Anba Besa (in Arabic, Wisa), describes Pshoi as “he of the mountain of Psoou.” This expression cannot indicate his place of birth, for another passage and the Synaxarion cited above report that he was born at Psone (in Greek, Psonis, and in Arabic, Basunah, a village still in existence; cf. Ramzi, 1953-1968 Vol. 2, pt. 4, p. 124). It can only designate, especially preceded by “mountain,” the place where he lived.

Thus it is probable that the place where the present Monastery of Anba Bishoi stands was originally called the “mountain” or the “desert” (the Coptic word has both senses) of Psoou. Unfortunately, the formula is missing in the Arabic version of the Life of Anba Shinudah, and in the notice in the Synaxarion. Anba Psoi’s place of retreat was then the parallel of Atrib, where Anba Shinudah had chosen to live and which is immortalized by the “White Monastery.”

Shinudah, in a passage in his works that his editor J. Leipoldt has entitled “On the Subject of the Life of the Monks,” stated precisely the extent of his monastery: “Our domain is from the valley which is to the north of the village of Triphois northward to the valley which is to the south of the dwelling of our father, the aged Apa Pshoi, the place where he first lived in the desert.” It is thus clear that the site of the Red Monastery is the site where Anba Pshoi lived.

This monastery always remained in the shadow of its celebrated neighbor, so much so that its history is somewhat eclipsed by it. This fact explains the lack of historical documents. Two inscriptions pointed out by V. de Bock (1901, p. 66, figs. 78-79) and dated by A. Mallon, who described them according to de Bock, would date from the ninth or tenth century. It seems that they have disappeared. From what one can understand of them (apparently de Bock did not know Coptic, and photography had not made the progress it has since made), they commemorated gifts made to the monastery by one Kolthe (Colluthus) and his son Paul (Mallon, 1914, Vol. 3, col. 2870). In 1973 R.-G. Coquin did not obtain permission to go and collect the inscriptions at the Monastery of Anba Bishoi.

However, a colophon dated A.M. 807/A.D. 1091 indicates that the copyist was one Raphael, at first monk of the Monastery of Apa Pshoi (the name is followed by an apposition that appears to qualify not Pshoi but the monastery that bears his name: phuna]on nnaggeloc). It might be asked if this is learned Hellenization of the Coptic word heneete, as A. van Lantschoot (1929, Vol. 1, pp. 127-31) suggests. In this case, it would mean “angelic monastery”; but it is not known from where this designation might have come and then passed to the neighboring Monastery of Anba Shinudah.

These transfers of monks were nothing unusual, for an inscription published by W. E. Crum (1904, p. 559), but which in part fell along with the plaster in 1973, mentions a director (archigos) of the Monastery of Anba Shinudah who had at first been a monk in the Monastery of Moses, no doubt that of Abydos.

One should note a monk of the Monastery of Anba Shinudah, the painter Mercurius, who left his name in the monastery of Pshoi by an inscription dated 1017/1301 (the best reproduction is given by Monneret de Villard, 1925, Vol. 2, fig. 221), just as the painter did in 1315-1316 at Isna (cf. Coquin, 1975, pp. 275ff.) and at Aswan (cf. Cledat, 1915, p. 15).

ABU SALIH THE ARMENIAN seems to have mentioned this monastery, if we trust the published Arabic text: “Dayr Abu B sh w n h, possessor of the monastery of Akhmim,” but his editor, B. T. A. Evetts, unfortunately, translated this proper name as “Pachomius” and did not notice that this is the same formula as in the recension of the Synaxarion of the Copts from Lower Egypt, from which Abu Salih probably borrowed it. One may believe that this is a case of a copyist’s error in Abu Salih’s only manuscript and correct slightly to read B(i)sh(oi)h. It is enough to think that the copyist placed not two points below the letter but a single point above, thus transforming a y into an n. This similarity of the formula may be an indication for dating this recension of the Synaxarion.

There is no evidence from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century, when al-MAQRIZI mentioned this monastery in his catalog of the monasteries of Egypt. He knew the two names, the primitive one that the Copts knew well and the popular one, for he calls it “Red Monastery also called monastery of Abu Bishai.” He knew that it was three hours’ travel (no doubt on foot) north of the White Monastery and that it was built of red bricks; he also said that this Abu was a contemporary of Shenute and that the latter was his pupil (no doubt confusing Bishoi with Pjol). Finally, he believed that there was another monastery bearing his name in the desert of Scetis, thus confusing the Pshoi of Akhmim and the one of Scetis.

From the seventeenth century on, there was the evidence of the European travelers. The first appears to have been J. VANSLEB (1677, pp. 372-77; 1678, pp. 225-26), who visited it in 1673. He noted that the two monasteries, the White and the Red, were neighbors; for him “an hour’s journey” separated them (no doubt he made the passage mounted). He remarked that the architecture of the two churches was similar and that both were ruined, although he noted the beauty of the capitals. According to the life of the saint that he had read, Anba Bishoi had been a thief before becoming a hermit. Vansleb may have confused him with MOSES THE BLACK. Vansleb was the only one to give this detail.

SICARD (1982, Vol. 2, pp. 225, 270) contented himself with mentioning it in relation to Shenoute; R. POCOCKE (1743-1745, Vol. 1, pp. 79-80) spoke of it and even drew up a plan, although not very exactly. Granger (1745, pp. 95-96) mentioned it, and F. L. Norden (1795-1798, Vol. 2, p. 70) did likewise. V. Denon (1802, Vol. 1, pp. 157ff.) spoke of it, and from him one learns that in his time (about 1798) the Red Monastery was burned down by the Mamluks.

In the nineteenth century one must mention the works of A. J. Butler (1884, Vol. 1, pp. 357-59). From the beginning of the twentieth century come the notes of M. JULLIEN (1903, pp. 257- 58) and S. CLARKE (1912, pp. 151-61 and pl. 49-52). O. spoke of it several times (1969-1970, pp. 111-17; 1974- 1975, pp. 79-86; 1981, pp. 148-62). He gave a good description of it in Christian Egypt, Ancient and Modern (1965, pp. 293-94; 1977, pp. 404-405).

It is appropriate to mention Monneret de Villard’s study Les Couvents près de Sohag (1925) and Walters’s synthetic study Monastic Archaeology in Egypt (1974).

‘Abd al-Masih (1924, p. 171) noted that people visit the Monastery of Anba Bishoi on 8 Abib each year, but it seems that this is a confusion with the saint of the same name in Scetis, whose feast in fact falls on 8 Abib.

  • ‘Abd al- Masih Salib al-Masu‘di al-Baramusi. Tuhfat al-Sa‘ilin fi Dhikr Adyirat Ruhban al-Misriyyin. Cairo, 1924.
  • Amélineau, E. Monuments pour servir à l’histoire de l’Egypte chrétienne aux IVe, Ve, VIe et VIIe siècles. Mémoires de la Mission archéologique française du Caire 4. Paris, 1886-1888.
  • Bock, V. de. Matériaux pour servir à l’archéologie de l’Egypte chrétienne. St. Petersburg, 1901.
  • Butler, A. J. The Ancient Coptic Churches, 2 vols. Oxford, 1884. Clarke, S. Christian Antiquities in the Nile Valley. Oxford, 1912. Cledat, J. “Les Inscriptions de Saint-Siméon.” Recueil de Travaux 37 (1915):41-57.
  • Coquin, R.-G. “Les Inscriptions pariétales des monastères d’Esna: Dayr al-Suhada’, Dayr al-Fakhuri.” Bulletin de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale 75 (1975):241-84.
  • Crum, W. E. “Inscriptions from Shenute’s Monastery.” Journal of Theological Studies 5 (1904):552-69.
  • . “Coptic Studies.” In F. L. Griffith, Archaeological Report (1907-1908).
  • . A Coptic Dictionary. Oxford, 1939.
  • Denon, V. Voyages dans la Haute et la Basse Egypte pendant les campagnes du général Bonaparte. Paris, 1802.
  • Granger, Sieur. Relation d’un voyage fait en Egypte en l’année 1730. Paris, 1745.
  • 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.
  • Lantschoot, A. van. Recueil des colophons des manuscrits chrétiens d’Egypte, Vol. 1, Les Colophons coptes des manuscrits sahidiques. Bibliothèque du Muséon 1. Louvain, 1929.
  • Mallon, A. “Copte (épigraphie).” In Dictionnaire d’archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, Vol. 3, cols. 2819-86. Paris, 1914.
  • Meinardus, O. Christian Egypt, Ancient and Modern. Cairo, 1965; 2nd ed., 1977.
  • . “Some Lesser Known Wall-Paintings in the Red Monastery.” Bulletin de la Société d’archéologie copte 20 (1969- 1970):111-17.
  • . “The Semi-domes of the Red Monastery at Sohâg.” Bulletin de la Société d’archéologie copte 22 (1974-1975):79-86.
  • . “Die Nischen-fresken im roten Kloster bei Sohagin.” Oriens Christianus 65 (1981):148-62.
  • Monneret de Villard, U. Les Couvents près de Sohâg (Deir el-Abiad et Deir el-Ahmar), 2 vols. Milan, 1925-1926.
  • Orlandi, T. Studi Copti. Testi e Documenti per lo Studio dellAntichità 22. Milan, 1968.
  • Norden, F. L. Voyage d’Egypte et de Nubie, 3 vols. Paris, 1795- 1798.
  • Petrie, W. M. F. Athribis. Publication of the British School of Archaeology in Egypt 14. London, 1908.
  • Pococke, R. A Description of the East and Some Other Countries, 2 vols. in 3. London, 1743-1745.
  • Ramzi, M. Al-Qamus al-Jughrafi lil-Bilad al Misriyyah, 3 vols. Cairo, 1953-1968.
  • Sicard, C. Oeuvres. ed. M. Martin and S. Sauneron, 3 vols. Bibliothèque d’étude 83-85. Cairo, 1982.
  • Walters, C. C. Monastic Archaeology in Egypt. Warminster, 1974.



Architectural Sculpture

The significant architectural sculpture of this church must be divided into two areas: the original decoration in the eastern part of the and in the triconch; and the older pieces of work contained in the medieval surrounding walls, some of them unintelligibly patched together.

The architectural sculpture contained in the east wall of the and in the triconch can without exaggeration be described as unique, in view of the unhappy situation regarding monuments handed down and preserved from early Christian Egypt. Here in the area of the sanctuary the most magnificent part of the architectural decoration of an imposing church has been preserved in situ in almost pristine condition. It is a representative ensemble that also allows insights into the relationship between homogeneity and variety of types and forms within a system of decoration.

The architectural decoration, especially in the triconch, was executed with markedly greater economy than in the more lavish church of Dayr Anba Shinudah at Suhaj, insofar as various parts of the building are decorated only with painting (e.g., entablatures, pediments, barrels and calottes, profiles and pilaster shafts of the majority of niches). This yields an interesting insight into the relative regard and rank accorded to sculpture and painting, for those parts of the building decorated only with painting are plainly used as a substitute for sculptured decoration (as an economy measure, so to speak) and are accordingly considered second-rate.

All the capitals are executed in stonework, as are the gables at particularly important positions (the side passages into the triconch). The dominant form is the Corinthian capital, fanning out in several types of varying profusion, which are ordered in accordance with the criteria of architectural composition (e.g., decidedly magnificent capitals on the pair of columns in the western opening of the triconch and corresponding pilaster capitals on the eastern end wall of the naos). The column capitals of the are slightly simpler, but well above average in their profusion of forms.

Again somewhat simpler but likewise provided with two crowns of eight leaves each is the series of column capitals of the lower order in the triconch, where the capitals arranged in the middle axis of the conchs are emphasized by additional volutes. More-severely reduced column capitals, with only one leaf crown of eight leaves, appear in the upper level of the projecting order of the triconch, and capitals reduced to four corner leaves in the half-columns or pilasters of the wall niches. As a whole, different types of pilaster capitals correspond to the column capitals.

From a typological point of view, the heads and the gables over the passages essentially correspond to the stage of development evident in the church of Dayr Anba Shinudah, but in certain cases they go considerably further (the side passages to the triconch) and accordingly point to the second half of the fifth century as the date for the architectural decoration.

Contrary to older opinions, the two well-known entrances, the north door and the south door of the surrounding walls, are neither homogeneous nor in situ. Essentially they do indeed contain decorated stone material that may derive from the time when the church was built, but it has been positioned with little understanding and, more often than not, misplaced. Evidently here architectural sculptures, which at least in part may derive from the original building of the church, have been inserted into the later brick walls at a time when the understanding of the relationships and associations of late classical architectural decoration had largely faded away.

  • Monneret de Villard, U. Les Couvents près de Sohâg, 2 vols., pp. 121ff. Milan, 1925-1926.



Up to the beginning of the twentieth century, clear remains of the surrounding wall were still visible in the south, west, and east. They enclosed an area that was about 500 feet (150 m) long in a north-south direction. Today these remains have been almost completely removed. On the east side, the boundary of the former monastic territory might even have been situated within the present- day village of Naj ‘Abu ‘Azizah, which has continued to expand into the territory of the former monastery.

The buildings that used to stand within the monastery still wait to be uncovered. At present only the ruins of the church are visible, together with the jawsaq (keep) immediately in front of its southern entrance. As for the rest of the buildings attached to the church in the southwest and east, they are modern constructions, which have nothing much to do with the monastery itself.

In non-Coptic texts, the old church of the monastery bears the name “Red Monastery, Dayr al-Ahmar,” an expression best avoided because it gives rise to misleading information and pertains simply to its external appearance, as the outer walls were built with fired bricks. The spatial arrangement inside is reminiscent of the churches of Dayr Anba Shinudah. On the south side of the building was a row of ecclesiastical side rooms. In this case, however, they can be reconstructed only with difficulty because the dividing wall against the actual church is now almost completely missing. To the far southwest lay the staircase, while the present-day staircase in the east did not belong to the original structure. The large central main room could have had a western apse as in the church of Dayr Anba Shinudah.

The church itself was a galleried basilica with a western return aisle. There was no narthex. The sanctuary, however, is shaped like a triconch. With the exception of the central dome, which appears in the position of the original wooden ceiling, it still preserves all the standard features almost intact, including the inner applied columns and the vaulted semidomes. The side rooms of the sanctuary are gamma-shaped, built around the side conchs. Also in this building a front triumphal arch resting on high columns was placed in front of the triumphal arch at the entrance of the triconch at the level of the front steps of the presbytery. Unusually (as also in the church of DAYR ABU FANAH), the triconch in this building at first stood on its own. Judging by the decor, it is to be dated to the second half of the fifth century. The rows of columns in the nave, like the outer walls of the church and sanctuary, come from a later period, perhaps the end of the fifth or even sixth century.

The tower was directly in front of the southern main entrance of the church and immediately assumed responsibility for the protection of the church. Its ground plan corresponds to the outline of the older keeps of other monasteries, having the staircase in the southwest and three rooms in the remaining quadrants. The ground level entry is unusual and is probably due to its special position in front of the church door. Presumably this tower dates to the ninth century.

  • Bock, V. de. Matériaux pour servir à l’archéologie de l’Egypte chrétienne, pp. 61-67. St. Petersburg, 1901.
  • Clarke, S. Christian Antiquities in the Nile Valley, pp. 161-71. Oxford, 1912.
  • Evers, H. G., and R. Romero. “Rotes und Weisses Kloster bei Sohag: Probleme der Rekonstruktion.” In Nil, ed. K. Wessel, pp. 175-94. Recklinghausen, 1964.
  • Grossmann, P. “Die von Somers Clarke in Ober-Ansina entdeckten Kirchenbauten.” Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Abteilung Kairo 24 (1969):156-60.
  • . “Sohag.” Archiv für Orientforschung 25 (1974-1977):323-25.
  • Monneret de Villard, U. Les Couvents près de Sohâg, 2 vols. Milan, 1925-1926.