DAYR ANBA HELIAS
A twelfth-century Ethiopian monastery in Wadi al-Natrun. In all the documents that concern this monastery, it is linked with the presence of Ethiopian monks. It is not that no other Ethiopian monks lived in other places in Wadi al-Natrun, but this monastery appears to have been populated exclusively by Ethiopians.
The presence of Ethiopian monks in Egypt is attested at various places. In addition to the need for staging posts for their pilgrimage to Jerusalem, there was also the necessity of their continuing to lead the monastic life in the places where it had been born.
One question presents itself. Who actually was the Saint Elias under whose patronage this monastery came into being? In the second recension of the Ethiopian SYNAXARION, the oldest manuscript of which dates from 1581 (Colin, 1986, p. 323), a Saint Elias of Scetis is celebrated on 8 Yakatit, a feast that is missing in both the Coptic Synaxarion and the first recension of the Ethiopian, which dates from the end of the fourteenth century or the beginning of the fifteenth.
It relates to the story of an interview between the emperor Theodosius, probably Theodosius II (408-450), and this holy monk. Hence, one may ask if the titular saint of this Ethiopian monastery was not this monk of Scetis, rather than the prophet. There is an English translation of this story by E. A. W. Budge (1976, p. 606). The manuscript of 1199 quoted below speaks for its part of “the great prophet Elias.”
To what period can the foundation of this monastery be assigned? H. G. Evelyn-White, who examined this question, opts for the twelfth century. He remarked that a manuscript (1926, p. 273) notes that it was written for the Monastery of Saint Elias and the date of this gift is given as 1199. Besides, several manuscripts and fragments of multilingual Bibles come from Scetis, and the several languages of the text correspond to the nationalities then represented at Scetis: Armenian, Arabic, Coptic, Ethiopian, and Syriac. The manuscripts in question, now in the Ambrosian Library in Milan, have been dated to the twelfth century.
It is difficult to assign a precise date for the demise of this Ethiopian monastery’s existence in Scetis. The monastery must still have been active in 1399, the date when a manuscript now in the National Library, Paris, was composed. The fifteenth-century Muslim historian al-MAQRIZI mentioned this monastery, saying that it belonged to the Ethiopians and was in ruins. Since al-Maqrizi died in 1441, the destruction of the Monastery of Saint Elias of the Ethiopians must therefore be established between 1399 and 1441.
- Budge, E. A. W. The Book of the Saints of the Ethiopian Church. 4 vols. Cambridge, 1928; repr. Hildesheim and New York, 1976.
- Evelyn-White, H. G. The Monasteries of the Wadi ‘n Natrun, Vol. 1, New Coptic Texts from the Monastery of Saint Macarius. New York, 1926. Vol. 2, The History of the Monasteries of Nitria and of Scetis. Vol. 2, New York, 1932. Repr. of all 3 vols., 1973.
- Zotenberg, H. Catalogue des manuscrits éthiopiens de la Bibliothèque nationale. Paris, 1877.