DAYR SITT DIMYANAH
A monastery near Bilqas.
It is very probable that the Dayr Jimyanah (or Dimyanah) described by al-MAQRIZI (d. 1441) and the present Dayr Sitt Dimyanah (to the north of Bilqas) are one and the same place, as suggested by ‘ABD AL-MASIH SALIB AL-MAS‘UDI (1924, p.149). The orthography given by al-Maqrizi, Jimyanah, is the same as that of the oldest manuscripts (sixteenth to eighteenth centuries) of the life of the saint (see the catalogs cited by G. Graf, Vol. 1, pp. 468 and 532) and of the European travelers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This orthography was still attested in 1903 by M. Jullien.
There is also confusion about the geographical situation. Al-Maqrizi indicates, admittedly without orientation, that the Dayr Jimyanah is three hours away (on foot or on an ass) from the DAYR AL-‘ASKAR, which was quite near the present Bilqas. The Dayr Sitt Dimyanah is today about 6 miles (10 km) north of Bilqas. Moreover, al-Maqrizi indicates that the festival of the monastery is in the Coptic month of Bashans, after that of the DAYR AL-MAGHTIS; the festival of the Dayr Sitt Dimyanah is on 12 Bashans. It might be argued that according to al-Maqrizi this Dayr Jimyanah is dedicated to Saint George, but the dedications given by this author are not always exact.
The most ancient witness, as indicated, is al-Maqrizi (d. 1441). The Dayr Jimyanah was part of a group of four monasteries, the only ones in the area of the salt marshes to the south of the lake of al-Burullus. Two of these, Dayr al-‘Askar and DAYR AL- MAYMAH, were quite close to Bilqas; the other two, Dayr al-Maghtis and Dayr Jimyanah, were farther to the north. The first was one day’s distance from Dayr al-‘Askar and the second, Dayr Jimyanah, three hours from this same Dayr al-‘Askar.
ABU AL-MAKARIM, who wrote at the beginning of the thirteenth century, does not speak of it, and The Churches and Monasteries of Egypt, a little later, does not mention any monastery or church in Upper Egypt dedicated to Saint Jimyanah/Dimyanah. Meinardus (1969, pp. 56, 68) rightly notes that the development of the cult of Saint Dimyanah is no earlier than the beginning of the seventeenth century. Her life does not figure in the most ancient manuscripts of the SYNAXARION. However, the dedication of her church is inserted at 12 Bashans in a manuscript of 1713 (Vatican Library, Arabic 63). In a marginal note only, hence by a reader later than the copyist, her feast is mentioned on 13 Tubah in another manuscript of 1712 (Coptic Museum, Cairo, Liturgy 45a). It is remarkable that the Ethiopic Synaxarion, which was translated from Arabic at the beginning of the fifteenth century in the monastery of Saint Antony (DAYR ANBA ANTUNIYUS), makes no mention of Saint Dimyanah.
It must, however, be noted that the author of the Life of Saint Jimyanah/Dimyanah (the name cannot be the feminine of Damian, as Meinardus affirms), John, bishop of Parallos, reports having found the story in the Dayr al-Maymah, to the south of al-Za‘faran. At the beginning of the Life, it is related that the saint at the age of one year was offered by her father to the church of Dayr al-Maymah, located near Bilqas. Since this monastery was in ruins (probably before the thirteenth century), it is possible that the life of the saint was composed when Dayr al-Maymah was still flourishing, or before the thirteenth century. It is therefore well to distinguish clearly between the expansion of the cult of Saint Dimyanah and the origin of her life preserved only in Arabic. (A résumé of this life has been inserted into the Cairo edition of the Synaxarion at 13 Tubah and at 12 Bashans).
On the other hand, it seems significant that the appearances of the Virgin that are related by the travelers to the Dayr Jimyanah in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries strangely resemble those described by the Ethiopic sources at the Dayr al-Mightas, which was scarcely more than some 9 miles (15 km) distant. We may, therefore, ask whether, after the destruction of Dayr al-Mightas in 1438, the devotion of the faithful was not transferred to Dayr Jimyanah, which was the origin of the cult of the saint who was honored there.
- Meinardus, O. “A Critical Study of the Cult of Sitt Dimiana and Her Forty Virgins.” Orientalia Suecana 18 (1969):45-68.
- Sicard, C. Oeuvres, 3 vols., ed. M. Martin. Bibliothèque d’études 83-85. Cairo, 1982.
- 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.
MAURICE MARTIN, S.J.
Dayr Sitt Dimyanah contains several large churches, of which only the small Church of the Epiphany possesses some claim to antiquity. Lying in the southwest of the main complex and evidently deriving from the Ottoman period, it consists of four domed compartments (bays) ranged one after another. The eastern one serves as a sanctuary, with an altar of fired bricks, and traces of work at the entrance that indicate the existence of a wooden iconostasis. The east wall, in front of which is a synthronon, contains several niches.
Northeast of this church lies an irregularly constructed modern hall church that Vansleb in 1672 saw under construction (1677, pp. 158ff). It is provided—as is usual today— with three sanctuaries. In more recent times it was enlarged on the south side by an additional aisle. On the north side there is an entrance hall, also added in modern times, the western side room of which was developed into a baptistery.
Entirely modern is the Church of Sitt Dimyanah lying to the west of the hall church, which was constructed as a four-pillar church with an ambulatory and quatrefoil-shaped pillars, and a large pilgrim church to the east.
The monastery has become a famous pilgrim center, which annually attracts thousands of pilgrims on 20 January and 21 May.
- Grossmann, P. Mittelalterliche Langhauskuppelkirchen und verwandte Typen in Oberägypten. Glückstadt, 1982.
- Meinardus, O. Monks and Monasteries of the Egyptian Deserts, pp. 333 ff. Cairo, 1961.
- Munier, H. “Les monuments coptes d’après le père Michel Jullien.”
- Bulletin de la Société d’archéologie copte 6 (1940):141-68. Sidawi, E. “Une Excursion à Sitti Dimiana.” Bulletin de la Société de géographie 8 (1917):84ff.