DAYR ANBA SAWIRUS (Asyut)
The most ancient attestation of this monastery appears to be the colophon of a manuscript written there between 10 November 1002 and 29 August 1003, which then passed into the library of the White Monastery (DAYR ANBA SHINUDAH) before ending up in the National Library, Paris (Copte 129:14, fol. 95; Crum, 1915, p. 47; Lantschoot, 1929 no. 70, fasc. 2, pp. 47-48). The text reads: “in the church and the monastery of the patriarch Severus which is in the hajir [edge of the desert] of Eribe to the south of the town of Asyut.”
There is no patriarch of Alexandria of this name, and this is probably the patriarch of Antioch exiled in Egypt from 518 to 538. The SYNAXARION of the Copts perpetuates his memory on 2 Babah and 14 Amshir (the day of his death). This sojourn in Egypt by the champion of monophysitism is well known (Crum, 1922-1933; O’Leary, 1952).
At the beginning of the twelfth century, the bishop of Misr, Sanhut, was obliged to flee from his see before the patriarch MICHAEL IV, who wished to establish his residence at Misr. He took refuge in the monastery of Saint Severus in the mountain of Asyut.
Yaqut (d. 1229) knew a monastery of Saint Severus near Asyut, still inhabited (1870-1873, Vol. 2, p. 641). ABU SALIH THE ARMENIAN (beginning of thirteenth century) devoted a fairly long notice to it (1895, pp. 250-51). He notes that the monastery was flourishing up to the arrival of the Ghuzz and the Kurds (1161), but they heavily taxed the monastery. An old and pious monk of this monastery predicted to Tala‘i ibn Ruzzayj that he would become a minister, which came to pass. In recognition he made a gift to the monastery of a parcel of fertile land.
Al-MAQRIZI (d. 1441) also gave a fairly long notice about the monastery (1853, Vol. 2, p. 506). It was situated on the border of the mountain of Durunkah. When Severus came into Upper Egypt, he made a prophecy to the monks. At his death a section of the mountain would fall upon the church without destroying it. When this came to pass, the monks were sure that the patriarch was dead, and from that day the monastery, which had been dedicated to the Holy Virgin, was named for Saint Severus.
In 1673 J. VANSLEB saw the ruins of the monastery of Severus from a distance, and the bishop of Asyut related to him that formerly the monks occupied themselves with the search for the philosopher’s stone (1677, p. 380; English ed., 1677, p. 229). In 1887 F. L. Griffith made some soundings and discovered two inscriptions, one of them dated 1091. The other, discovered at DAYR RIFAH, mentions Severus, archbishop of the city of Antioch (1889, p. 11, pl. 17).
Until 1965 one could see the two white domes of its church. They have disappeared since the construction of the military road that serves the quarries of the region.
- Crum, W. E. Der Papyruskodex saec. VI-VII der Phillipsbibliothek in Cheltenham. Schriften der Wissenschaftlichen Gesellschaft in Strasburg 18. Strasbourg, 1915.
- . “Sévère d’Antioche en Egypte.” Revue de l’Orient chrétien 23 (1922-1923): 92-104.
- Griffith, F. L. The Inscriptions of Siut and Der Rifeh. London, 1889. Lantschoot, A. van. Recueil des colophons des manuscrits chrétiens d’Egypte, Vol. 1. Louvain, 1929.
- O’Leary, De L. “Severus of Antioch in Egypt.” Aegyptus 32 (1952):426-36.
- 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.
- Yaqut ibn ‘Abd Allah al-Hamawi. Geographisches Wörterbuch, Vol. 2, ed. F. Wüstenfeld. Leipzig, 1870-1873.
MAURICE MARTIN, S. J.