A term that seems to have originated in Palestine, where it described a range or group of cells around a common center, including a church, a bakery, and various communal services, where the hermits gathered on Saturday and Sunday, bringing the fruit of their labors and leaving again with their bread for the week. Since the Greek word lavra means a narrow street or alley, one thinks of what is suggested by the Arabic word suq, that is, a narrow street lined with booths, a kind of market where the hermits brought their work together and went off to their cells with the product of their week’s work (see D. J. Chitty, 1966, index, p. 203).
Consequently the Greek term appears to have had two meanings. First, it designated several monasteries of cenobites, grouped around a common center including a church, a hostelry, and a bakery; it seems indeed that the young monks were grouped there while waiting to be assigned to the different monasteries that formed the laura. The only laura that answers to this meaning of the word seems to have been that of the ENATON, west of Alexandria. We may note that in Palestine the word appears to have taken this sense. If it was applied to monasteries near Alexandria, it seems to have been by strangers and fairly late (before the fourth century it does not appear to have been used): narratives attributed to DANIEL OF SCETIS (Clugnet, 1900, p. 61) or journey of John Moschus (PG 87, cols. 3029, 3032, etc.), for whom lavra signifies simply monastery.
Second, it designated a group of hermitages around common buildings, one of them a church. This appears to be the primitive sense, at least in Palestine. No Egyptian text seems to use the word in the same way. It has come about that, for convenience, it is used in this sense, but it should be known that texts do not so use it when referring to Egypt. If we read it in some texts, this is the work of non-Egyptians who transpose to Egypt the realities they know.
- Chitty, D. J. The Desert, a City. London, 1966.
- Clugnet, L. “Vie et récits de l’abbé Daniel de Scété.” Revue de l’Orient chrétien 5 (1900):49-73, 254-71.
- Crum, W. E. A Coptic Dictionary. Oxford, 1939; 2nd ed., 1962.
- Lampe, G. W. H. A Patristic Greek Lexicon, p. 794. Oxford, 1961. Moschus, John (Ioannis Moschi). Patrum Spirituale. PG 87. Paris, 1860. French trans. M. J. Rouet de Journel. Le pré spirituel. Sources chrétiennes 12. Paris, 1946.