A city in middle Egypt located on the left bank of the Nile about 5 miles (8 km) south of Asyut.
The area south of Asyut in which Durunkah is situated has long been a center of Christianity. However, the attestations of Christianity in Durunkah itself do not begin until the medieval era. The Churches and Monasteries of Egypt lists a number of churches and monasteries found in the region. Though this account does not give specific locations, it is reasonable to assume that some of the sites were in or near Durunkah. The fifteenth-century historian al-MAQRIZI called the area around Durunkah one of the most Christian districts of Upper Egypt and he said that the Christians living there were schooled in their religion and used Coptic as their spoken language. He reported further that there were many monasteries in the mountainous region just south of the city, though most of these were in ruins. Among those still standing in his day were Dayr Abu Jirj, Dayr Ard al-Hajiz, Dayr Mika’il, Dayr Karfunah (D. AL-MUTTIN), Dayr Bu Bagham, and Dayr Bu Sawirus. He also said there was a church in Durunkah of the three youths cast into the fiery furnace. The church is still standing.
Colophons in Coptic and Arabic manuscripts acquaint us with two fourteenth-century scribes from Durunkah: Shenute (John Rylands Library, Manchester, Coptic manuscript 423) and Peter, who calls himself a calligrapher, monk, and presbyter (Crum, 1909, no. 423). It is likely that there was a school for scribes in the city.
Apparently there was considerable persecution of Christians in Durunkah by the Muslim civil administration. On 2 Bashans, the SYNAXARION commemorates Philotheos from Durunkah who was martyred in 1396 because of his Christian faith.
From the time of Philotheos until the sixteenth-century attestations of Christianity in Durunkah are wanting. Then in a manuscript from DAYR ANBA MAQAR that describes the renovation of the church and the dedication of the keep in 1517, we read that Bishop Anba Yu’annis from Durunkah attended the proceedings (Leroy, 1971, p. 228).
From the end of the seventeenth century, many European travelers journeyed to Durunkah and gave descriptions of the city’s Christian buildings. In the last third of the seventeenth century, J. M. Vansleb described the church of the three youths cast into the fire and a “Monastery of the Blessed Virgin” located on a hill behind the city (1678, p. 219). This monastery was probably Dayr al-‘Adhra’, the ruins of which are still to be seen next to the recently constructed Church of the Virgin Mary in the mountainous region west of Durunkah (Meinardus, 1965, p. 284). Vansleb also saw the Monastery of the Virgin, which along with its church was cut in the rock, and he visited the ruins of DAYR ANBA SAWIRUS (1678, p. 228).
A little more than a century later S. CLARKE toured the area around Durunkah and described the Church of the Archangel (Michael). The church that exists today with its altars for Anba Pshoi and the archangel Michael was built in the nineteenth century, but it rests on much older foundations. Clarke also gave a description of the church of the Monastery of the Virgin Mary located in the mountainous region west of Durunkah. This church, as opposed to the Church of the Archangel, was very old and was built on the foundations of an even older church (Clarke, 1912, pp. 175-76). In the years since Clarke’s visit, the appearance of this area has changed considerably. Next to the church in the rock, the bishop of Asyut has built himself a residence and many new buildings have been constructed for the people who come to the area for the annual festival (7-22 August) in commemoration of the visit of the Holy Family to Asyut on their FLIGHT INTO EGYPT (Meinardus, 1965, p. 285).
- Clarke, S. Christian Antiquities in the Nile Valley. Oxford, 1912. Crum, W. E. Catalogue of the Coptic Manuscripts in the Collection
- of the John Rylands Library, Manchester. Manchester, 1909. Leroy, J. “Complément à l’histoire des couvents du Ouadi Natroun d’Evelyn White.” Bulletin de l’Institut français d’Archéologie orientale 70 (1971):225-33.
- Meinardus, O. F. A. Christian Egypt, Ancient and Modern. Cairo, 1965.
- Timm, S. Das christlich-koptische Ägypten in arabischer Zeit, pt. 2, pp. 892-99. Wiesbaden, 1984.
- 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.