MONASTERIES OF THE MIDDLE SA‘ID
The Greek geographers and the Arab historians of the Middle Ages identified this province of Egypt as beginning south of al-Bahnasa (OXYRHYNCHUS) and ending at AKHMIM (Panopolis).
To the south of al-Bahnasa, going up the Nile, lies the site of Dayr al-Ju‘, followed by Dayr Abu Bifam, where there was a monastery dedicated to Saint PACHOMIUS. The Churches and Monasteries of Egypt noted a Dayr al-‘Asal south of Minya, which has now disappeared. The next site is the ancient Hermopolis Magna (al-Ashmunayn). In this province, the two monasteries of Naway and Kahyor were founded by Theodorus, the successor of Saint Pachomius. Beyond doubt, the first is located in the village of Naway, which still exists. The second was probably near the river, according to the Life of the Pachomian martyr Hamay.
ABU SALIH mentioned Dayr Abu Nub to the north of al-Ashmunayn. Near the so-called Libyan mountain between the Nile and the Red Sea and close to the present village of Hur is situated the famous DAYR ABU FANAH. Al-MAQRIZI called attention to a church resembling a monastery outside Dayrut al-Sharif, which was then called Dayrut Sarabam[on] or Dayr Abu Sarabam.
Near the village of Rayramun was the monastery of the archangel Michael. The large village called Dayr Mawas perhaps still preserves the name of a vanished monastery. Some texts mention vanished monasteries around Sanabu. Abu Salih spoke in the past tense of a monastery of Saint Onophrius near Daljah, which was then on the right bank of the Bahr Yusuf. Al-Maqrizi places a Dayr Marqurah to the east of Daljah in its hajir (stony region at the edge of the desert). To the south, near the Libyan mountain, was the celebrated monastery of Bawit.
A little farther to the south, some tombs from ancient Egypt, situated in the necropolis of Meir, were occupied by hermits. Still farther to the south is the great Monastery of al-Muharraq; nearby is the Monastery of the Abyssinians. To the east of DAYR AL-MUHARRAQ is the village of Buq, where J. VANSLEB said he saw the Monastery of the Angel Gabriel. A little farther on, to the south of the village of al-Jawli, then called al-Jawliyyah, there was, according to al-Maqrizi, a monastery dedicated to Saint MERCURIUS, of which a church surrounded by a necropolis survives.
Al-Maqrizi mentioned a Monastery of the Angel Gabriel near Manfalut, at Bani Kalb. Near Old Manqabad some rock tombs were occupied by hermits and retain reminders of their presence.
Next is the region of Asyut, rich in Christian memorials. The cliff of the Libyan mountain was occupied by cemeteries of the pharaonic period. They are successively Dayr al-‘Izam, Dayr al-Muttin, and Dayr Durunkah; and nearby the ruins of Dayr Anba Sawirus. Then comes Dayr Rifah and, closer to the Nile, Dayr Abu Musha and Dayr al-Zawyah. Farther down is DAYR AL-BALA’IZAH and, in Wadi Sarjah, Dayr Thomas. Finally come the two neighboring monasteries, Dayr Abu Maqrufah and Dayr al-Ganadlah.
Farther on and forming part of the district of Abu Tij are the ruins of al-Duwayr and, nearer to Tima, the Monastery of Abu Bifam. To the south of Abu Tij and opposite Qaw al-Kibir (the ancient Antaeopolis) was Dayr Anba Abshay, the ruins of which Vansleb could still see. Abu Salih wrote of a Dayr al-Malak Mikha’il near the town of al-Maraghah. Farther south and near Suhaj is first of all Dayr al-Ahmar, so called because of its construction in red bricks and dedicated to its founder Anba Bishoi. Near it, some 6 miles (10 km) from Suhaj, is Dayr al-Abyad, or Dayr Anba Shinudah. This marks the southern limit of this province.
Going up the left bank of the Nile one first sees the quarries of Shaykh Hasan, which were occupied by the hermits; then opposite Samalut, Dayr al-‘Adhra rises on the summit of Jabal al-Tayr. The neighboring mountain, called Achoris in the Byzantine period, was inhabited very early by anchorites (Tihna al-Jabal in Minya).
Opposite Minya lies Dayr Apa Hur at Sawadah and then the village of Zawiyat al-Mayyitin, which still preserves some Christian remains. Farther to the south, the Speos Artemidos, like all the Arabian mountains, or, as it is called, Libyan Mountain, has been fitted up with monastic habitations (Bani Hasan).
Near the ancient town of Antinoopolis are several monasteries: Dayr al-Dik, Dayr al-Nasara, Dayr Sunbat, Dayr Abu Hinnis, Dayr al-Barshah. The tombs of Shaykh Sa‘id were inhabited by hermits, as at TALL AL-‘AMARNAH. Next comes the massif of Jabal Abu Fudah, where from north to south there are Dayr Tadrus, Dayr al-Qusayr, Dayr Mari Mina, and Dayr al-Jabrawi.
One thus arrives at the right bank of ASYUT, or rather at the basin of Abnub, for the Nile, turning aside from the Arabian mountain, delimits by its windings two important basins where monasteries were established.
In the basin of Abnub are, from north to south, Dayr Buqtur of Shu, then Dayr al-‘Adhra’, Dayr Abu Ishaq, and Dayr Bisrah. In the basin of Badari are first the Monastery of al-‘Awanah, then Dayr Tasa, and last Dayr Harmina.
Near Akhmim, to the north in the Wadi bir al-‘Ayn, is found Dayr al-Madwid, Dayr Apa Thomas, Dayr Bakhum, and Dayr al-Qurqas.
To the east of Akhmm are Dayr al-Malak Mikha’il, Dayr al-Shuhada, and finally Dayr al-‘Adhra’, and there ends the province of the Lower Thebaid.
Sites Not Located
Several monasteries mentioned by Abu Salih or al-Maqrizi are difficult to identify, particularly in the region of Asyut. Abu Salih spoke of the Monastery of Abu Surrah, which is perhaps a corruption of the name Theodorus. He also named a monastery called Hanadah, which he placed at Rifah. He also mentioned two monasteries dedicated to the Holy Virgin, the first named for Azilun and the second for Abu Harith. He cited a Monastery of Culluthus and a Monastery of Ibsidiyyah at Rifah. He located Dayr Philemon as being south of Aqfahs.
Similarly, al-Maqrizi named a Monastery of Abu al-Surra, but put it under the name of Saint George. He also spoke of a Monastery of Saint George Khammas, a Monastery of Isaac on the left bank dedicated to the Holy Virgin, and the Monastery of the Holy Apostles or of the Tamaris.
[For further information, see under individual monasteries.]