The monastery is situated in the southwest of the Fayyum, in the northern part of the Wadi al-Muwaylih. One may reach it either from the valley, starting from al-Maghaghah, or from the south of the Fayyum from Gharaq al-Sultani. Because access is extremely difficult, it is still the most isolated monastery in Egypt.

The name comes from the Greek kalamon (reed-bed, a place planted with reeds), a name no doubt due to the salt marshes described by ABU SALIH THE ARMENIAN and al-MAQRIZI. The ancient texts most often specify “Kalamon of the Arsinoite,” to distinguish it from other places of the same name in Egypt.

We know, for example, from John Moschus that fifteen miles (about 24 km) from Alexandria there was a LAURA of Kalamon (PG 87, col. 3029) and from John CASSIAN that there was at SCETIS a place called Calamus (Evelyn-White, 1932, p. 155, n. 5). At present a village in the oasis of Dakhlah is called al-Qalamun.

If we are to accord any historical value to the life of Saints PANINE AND PANEU, the valley of Kalamon was already inhabited by hermits at the time of Diocletian’s persecution during the years 284-305 (Orlandi, 1978, pp. 106-107). The alphabetical Greek series of the APOPHTHEGMATA PATRUM speaks of an Abba who lived at Kalamon of the Arsinoite nome, and of monks who inhabited the same mountain (PG 65, cols. 401, 405).

The patriarch CYRIL I (d. 444), in a letter addressed to Calosiris, bishop of Arsinoë, warns the monks of the desolate mountain of Kalamon against ANTHROPOMORPHISM (Letter 83; PG 76, cols. 1066-77). We do not know if these monks lived in isolation or were grouped in a koinobion (monastery), but evidence indicates that Samuel, who lived during the seventh century, was not the initiator of monasticism in this mountain.

The Life of Samu’il of Qalamun, preserved in Coptic, provides some information about the history of the monastery. After being driven from Scetis, where he was a monk, by the envoy of the Chalcedonian patriarch Cyrus after 631, Samuel took refuge first at Naqlun (DAYR AL-NAQLUN), from which he was again driven out, then at TAKINASH, near the valley of Qalamun.

From there he withdrew to a small church that appears to have been located in the valley; the church was encroached upon by the sands, which indicates that the monks had abandoned it. Samu’il came back to the church and restored it as well as the cells that surrounded it. Disciples came to join him from Takinash and from Naqlun, and eventually he built a great church that he dedicated to the Virgin. He died about the year 700, at the age of ninety-eight.

An apocalypse under his name adds some further details (Ziadeh, 1915-1917). It was composed probably at the end of the eighth century and has been translated from Coptic into Arabic. Stories of miracles of the Virgin at preserved in Arabic and in Ethiopic are dated in the Ethiopic version, the only one published, of A.M. 388/A.D. 671-672 and attributed to the Isaac, possibly the same author who wrote the Life of Samu’il (Cerulli, 1943, pp. 158-78).

The monastery was plundered by the bedouins at a period difficult to specify (Fourth Miracle of Saint Ptolemy, PO 5, pp. 699 and 784-86). Another plundering (or perhaps the same) is mentioned in the Life of the patriarch SHENUTE I (858-880).

The monastery possessed a scriptorium, for the library discovered in 1910 at contained two codices, dating from the ninth century, which had been copied at the monastery of Qalamun (Lantschoot, 1929, nos. 3 and 4, fasc. 2, pp. 11-12).

In the work attributed to Abu Salih, the report about al- is borrowed from a document dated A.M. 894/A.D. 1178. At this period the monastery was flourishing, occupied by 130 monks and with property in the valley at its disposal, not to mention the revenues from the salt-pits and palm groves.

The monastery is also mentioned by Yaqut (Wüstenfeld, 1867, Vol. 2, p. 687), by Ibn Duqmaq (1893, Vol. 5, p. 4), and by al- Nabulsi (ed. Salmon, 1901, p. 72).

In 1353 the relic of Saint Ishkirun, which had been in the monastery of al-Qalamun, was transferred to the Monastery of Saint MACARIUS (DAYR MAQAR) in the Wadi al-Natrun, without any reason being given, although the translation might have resulted from the decline of the monastery (Burmester, 1937).

In 1409 a monk from the of became patriarch: GABRIEL V (1409-1427), who was to be renowned for his liturgical reforms.

The fairly long notice devoted to Dayr al- by al-Maqrizi (1853, Vol. 2, p. 505) shows that the monastery was still inhabited in the fifteenth century, but had lost something of its past splendor, since it had only two towers instead of four as during the period described in Abu Salih.

The Book of the Hidden Pearls, about sixteenth century, still mentions it (Daressy, 1917, p. 204).

Thereafter it is European travelers who mention the monastery, sometimes perhaps from hearsay, for it was abandoned (Vansleb, 1671, p. 205: “monte Kelmon”; Sicard, 1982, Vol. 1, pt. 3, pp. 171, 189). In the 1722 map (drawn by order of C. Sicard) it is marked in the south of the Fayyum, under the name of Saint PAPHNUTIUS; Belzoni (1820, pp. 432-33) is the first to describe the ruins of the abandoned monastery. Prisse d’Avennes (1848, p. 190) notes two churches at the site with frescoes of apostles and of several saints, as well as Coptic inscriptions. Whitehouse (1885-1886, p. 205) saw there in 1880 a painting of Saint George.

In 1898-1899 some monks who came from DAYR AL- BARAMUS reoccupied it and reconstructed a small monastery dedicated to Saint Samuel.

The monastery today occupies only a small part of the ancient monastery, remains of whose encircling wall are still visible on the north and northwest. The limits are given by an extensive kom (mound). The monastery now has three churches: the subterranean one of Saint Samuel in an old qasr or tower, at about 10 yards (some 8 meters) below ground level, no doubt indicating the original level; and two recent churches, one dedicated to Saint Samuel, the other to the Virgin. From the ancient monastery there survive, in addition to the subterranean church, two Coptic inscriptions and the remains of fine carved decorations ( and capitals).

[See also: Abu al-Makarim; Samu’il of Qalamun.]


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  • Belzoni, G. B. Narrative of the Operations and Recent Discoveries . . . in Egypt and Nubia. London, 1820.
  • Burmester, O. H. E. “The Date of the Translation of Saint Iskhirun.” Le Muséon 50 (1937):53-60.
  • Cauwenbergh, P. van. Etude sur les moines d’ depuis le concile de Chalcédoine (451) jusqu’a l’invasion arabe (640). Paris and Louvain, 1914.
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Because of the reoccupation of the monastery by monks from Dayr al-Baramus at the end of the nineteenth century, a great part of the historical buildings has been lost. These buildings were destroyed to make room for new buildings. Johann Georg could still see remains of the old church, once richly painted (Johann Georg, 1931, p. 15). According to the description of G. Belzoni (1820, p. 433), “some of the paintings on the wall are very finely preserved, particularly the figures of the twelve apostles on the top of a niche, over an altar; the gold is still to be seen in several parts, and their faces are well preserved.”

Presumably, this is the great church built by Samu’il and dedicated before 700 by Bishop Joseph of Arsinoë (see Cauwenbergh, 1914, p. 116). Today there is on the same spot an insignificant little modern chapel. The fine limestone capitals of the old church lie in the north part of the monastery and adorn the entrance porches of the buildings in this area. They are older than Samuel’s church and therefore were already used by him as spolia (capitals reused from older buildings). In style they are similar to the pieces from Oxyrhynchus, and may well have come from workshops there.

The only thing partly preserved is the old jawsaq (keep) of the monastery, which, together with its vault, is built in a good ashlar technique (Grossmann, 1980, p. 302). As usual, it is entered by a drawbridge at the second story. The staircase lies immediately to the right beside the entrance. The individual rooms in the still-intact lower parts are accessible in a ring system. In the course of the reoccupation of the monastery, a small chapel, still in use today, was fitted up on the ground floor by removing the intermediate floor, carried on wooden beams. A small outlet, now walled up, in the north wall of the ground floor presumably led to a source of water lying outside the keep. The jawsaq may belong to the sixth century.

The high wall of the monastery shows numerous repairs, so that altogether it can scarcely be of very great age. According to Abu al- Makarim (ed. Evetts, fol. 71b), the monastery had four keeps, presumably displayed on all corners, and thus once it had an appearance not unlike that of the DAYR HADRA at Aswan. The present main entrance lies on the east side. Remains of some badly damaged mud brick buildings—perhaps hermitages of monks living outside the walls—can be seen in the north of the monastery.


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