The Greek name of the city known in Egyptian as Mennufer and in Coptic as membe or menf (variant spellings of the name abound in Coptic documents). The city was one of the most populous places in ancient Egypt and played an important part in the administrative and religious life of the Egyptian people. The remains of Memphis, which include a number of temples, a palace, an embalming house, tombs, and necropolises, are located near the modern village of Mit Rahinah on the west side of the Nile about 12 miles (19 km) south of Cairo.
Before A.D. 325 Memphis is mentioned only a few times in Coptic texts. Among the significant occurrences of the name in this literature is the account in the martyrdom of SHENUFE that recounts how Shenufe was taken by ship from Chortasa to Memphis and then to Dalas. The story explains that there were a number of temples and pagans in Memphis for whom Shenufe performed various miracles (Reymond and Barns, 1973, p. 90 [Coptic texts]; p. 192 [English translation]).
Our knowledge of bishops in Memphis begins with the report of ATHANASIUS that around 325 a man named John was the Melitian bishop in the city (Munier, 1943, p. 3). Lists of the bishops who took part in the Council of NICAEA in 325 indicate that Memphis was also an orthodox bishopric at this early period; Bishop Antiochus represented Memphis at the council (Munier, 1943, p. 5). Sometime after Antiochus Perius (the transmitted spelling is perhaps a scribal error for Pestorius) was bishop of Memphis. Contemporary documents indicate that Perius was known as a pillar of orthodoxy (Rossi, 1885, pp. 102-103). A later bishop was Philippus, who compiled a life of Saint Maharati (Graf, 1944, p. 535).
The first bishop of Memphis mentioned in the historical sources for the period after the ARAB CONQUEST OF EGYPT is Mennas, who presided in the middle of the eighth century. The HISTORY OF THE PATRIARCHS records that he once assisted KHA’IL I (744-767) in a prayer service for the rising of the Nile. The successor of Mennas appears to have been Apa George, who accompanied Bishop Michael of Cairo and Patriarch JOHN IV (775-799) to Alexandria sometime around 798. A Coptic text from the Monastery of Jeremiah at Saqqara (see DAYR APA JEREMIAH) names Jacob, bishop of Memphis, as a contemporary of Patriarch YUSAB I (830-849).
Another text from the same monastery speaks of Bishop Antony of Memphis, but there is no indication whether he preceded or followed Jacob in the office of bishop (Quibell, 1912, no. 331). Memphis was still a bishopric around 1240 when Mark, bishop of Awsim (Wasim) and Memphis subscribed to the canons of Patriarch CYRIL III IBN LAQLAQ (1235-1243).
Monasticism was established in the area around Memphis at an early period. At the end of the fourth century the author of the HISTORIA MONACHORUM IN AEGYPTO reported seeing many fathers and a large number of monks around Memphis and the Apophthegmata Patrum says that the Monastery of Arsenius was located near Turah, above Babylon, across from Memphis. The most famous of the monasteries in the area was DAYR APA JEREMIAH in Saqqara, the old necropolis of Memphis.
ABU SALIH THE ARMENIAN, who wrote at the beginning of the thirteenth century, knew of only two churches in Memphis. One of these churches, which he said was spread with mats, was located next to a house constructed of green granite. The other church, which had been restored in his day, was next to the place where Moses was said to have slain the Egyptian (Ex. 2:11-15).
- Burmester, O. H. E. “The Canons of Cyril III ibn Laklak.” Bulletin de la Société d’archéologie copte 14 (1950-1957):113-50.
- Cotelier, J. B., ed. Apophthegmata Patrum. PG 65, cols. 71-440. Paris, 1864.
- Festugière, A.-J., ed. Historia Monachorum in Aegypto. Brussels, 1971.
- Munier, H. Recueil des listes épiscopales de l’église copte. Cairo, 1943.
- Quibell, J. E. Excavations at Saqqara (1908-9, 1909-10): The Monastery of Apa Jeremias. Cairo, 1912.
- Reymond, E. A. E., and J. W. B. Barns, eds. Four Martyrdoms from the Pierpont Morgan Coptic Codices. Oxford, 1973.
- Rossi, F. “Trascrizione di alcuni testi copti tratti dai papiri del Museo egizio di Torino.” Memorie della Reale Accademia della Scienze di Torino, ser. 2, 36 (1885):89-182.
- Timm, S. Das christlich-koptische Ägypten in arabischer Zeit, pt. 4, pp. 1549-58. Wiesbaden, 1988.