HISTORY OF THE CHURCHES AND MONASTERIES OF EGYPT (late 12th-early 13th c.)
An important source for the history of the Coptic Church. The History of the Churches and Monasteries of Egypt is a remarkable collection of geographically arranged entries concerning churches and monasteries (primarily in Egypt, but with entries as far-flung as Abyssinia, Palestine, and Rome), and sometimes the people and events connected with them.
Den Heijer has shown that Melchite and Muslim sources, as well as Coptic ones (the History of the Patriarchs in particular), were used by the compilers—whoever they were. Indeed, many details about the composition of the work are obscure: Three layers of text range in date from about 1160 to 1220, and the full text may have been reedited over a century later. The names of Abu al-Makarim Sa‘dallah ibn Jirjis and Abu Salih the Armenian have been attached to the work, but their precise contributions are unknown. All this is complicated by the fact that the text has been preserved in a single manuscript that was divided in two and from which pages amounting to about 15 percent of the total have been lost.
One part of the manuscript (now in Paris) was edited and published by Basil Thomas Alfred Evetts in 1894, but it was another 90 years before the contents of the other part of the manuscript (now in Munich) were made available in Egypt through a modest volume published by the monk Samu’il al-Suryani (later Bishop Samuel of Shabin al-Qanatir). Despite the puzzles posed by the text, it is a vast store of information in which readers have found treasures. The History of the Churches and Monasteries of Egypt is, for example, one of our most important sources for the career of Marqus ibn al-Qunbar.
In an age in which many Egyptian Christians are assiduously studying the history of their holy places, including the itinerary of the Holy Family in Egypt, the History has become a major resource.
And when handled with sensitivity, the text bears quiet witness to the fragility of a community that had suffered during the 12th century (from Crusaders and the transition from Fatimid to Ayyubid rule) and that continued to delineate, claim, and celebrate its sacred geography. See also MONASTICISM, EGYPTIAN.