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Monasteries Of The Upper Sa‘Id - Coptic Wiki


The upper Sa‘id encompasses the southern third of the Nile Valley, according to its division (from Cairo to Aswan) into three sections by the ancient Greek geographers and their Arabic imitators (see Grohmann, 1959, pp. 21, 27).

Left or West Bank

The first site is at Abydos, which was greatly renowned in ancient Egypt; here are found the two monasteries of Moses (Dayr Abu Musa or Misas) and DAYR ANBA BAKHUM (Pachomius). Farther up comes BAKHANIS, the name of which perpetuates a foundation of Pachomius. A little farther on, the large town of Farshut recalls the memory of Abraham who was born there and, driven from Pbow by the Emperor Justinian’s police, founded two monasteries near the town, one for men and the other for women.

It is a short distance to the town of Bahjurah, where DAYR ANBA BIDABA still stands; about 6 miles (10 km) away was situated the ancient Diaspolis Parva (today Hiw), to the south of which is DAYR MAR MINA. The left bank is void of Christian remains as far as Qena, where on the island of al-Hamidat remains a memory, perhaps legendary, of a convent of nuns. Up as far as DAYR AL-BALLAS and from Naqadah to Qamulah there are no fewer than eight monasteries over a strip of some 6 miles (10 km), six of which are on the edge of the desert: DAYR AL-MALAK MIKHA’IL, DAYR AL-SALIB, DAYR ABU AL-LIF, DAYR AL-MAJMA‘, DAYR ANBA PISENTIUS, the celebrated bishop of Qift in the seventh century, DAYR MAR BUQTUR, and finally Dayr al-Malak Mikha’il) to the west of Qamulah. Two other notable sites are the rock churches of Elias and al-Sanad, which in contrast with the monastery churches were no more than places of assembly for hermits who lived in the neighborhood.

The region of Thebes is celebrated among tourists for its Valleys of the Kings and Queens and for temples that preserve traces of their occupation by Christian hermits. First, to the north, as its name indicates, is DAYR AL-BAKHIT, then DAYR PHOIBAMMON (also called Dayr al-Bahri), then quite close DAYR EPIPHANIUS and Dayr Kyriakus. There is also the temple of Hathor, which was transformed into a monastery called DAYR AL-MADINAH, a name it has retained to this day.

Not far away, on the hill of QURNAT MAR‘I are the ruins of a hermitage recently excavated. Behind MADINAT HABU the small DAYR AL-AMIR TADRUS still remains, and at the beginning of the Valley of the Queens rises the site today called DAYR AL-RUMI (Greek monastery), although it is not known whence the name comes. A little farther on can be noted a small temple of the Ptolemaic period, called Dayr al-Shalwit (the remote monastery).

Near Armant at the bottom of a deep gorge are the remains of a topos, which is wrongly called Dayr Phoibammon. This region of Armant contains numerous sites: DAYR AL-NAMUS (or al- Misaykarah), DAYR AL-NASARA (of the Christians, for the original name has been lost), DAYR POSIDONIOS, DAYR AL- MATMAR (or Dayr al-Abyad, the White Monastery, not to be confused with that at Suhaj), and finally DAYR AL-SAQIYAH (also called the topos al-Qiddis Yuhannis, although which Saint John is concerned is not clear).

In the neighborhood of Isna, near the village of al-Dimiqrat, is DAYR MAR JIRJIS; nearer is the celebrated DAYR AL- FAKHURI, near the ancient Asfun. To the southwest of the town of Isna is DAYR AL-SHUHADA’, and beside it the ruins of DAYR ISHAQ. Approaching Idfu, Dayr al-Malak Mikha’il (also called Dayr Anba Bakhum) still bears witness to the planting of Christianity in this region. Farther along, the valley narrows at a place named JABAL AL-SILSILAH (mountain of the chain), which preserves traces of hermits who lived there. Nearer the town of Aswan are DAYR AL-KUBANIYYAH and the Dayr Qubbat al- Hawa. Above Aswan are the imposing ruins of the DAYR ANBA HADRA. The island of Philae perhaps preserves some monastic souvenirs at the gate of Nubia, of which it was sometimes considered the capital.

Right or East Bank

Somewhat curiously, the monasteries are much less numerous here, perhaps because the Left Bank was traditionally the region of the dead, and the hermits took up their abode in the ancient tombs. The expression “to pass to the west” was equivalent to “become a monk.”

Going up the Nile, on leaving Akhmim near the Nile, is DAYR MAR JIRJIS AL-HADIDI, and, opposite al-Minshah Psoi (Ptolemais Hermiou), DAYR ANBA BISADAH, which commemorates and preserves the relics of an ancient bishop of Psoi, Bisadah (PSOTE). A little farther on lie the ruins of Dayr Yuhannis (John, although we do not know which John). Still farther on, opposite the town of Jirja, a church still bears witness to a small monastery, the DAYR AL-MALAK MIKHA’IL. Farther south, to the east of al-Khiyam and inside a village called Naj‘ al-Dayr (village of the monastery), a small monastery dedicated to Saint Philotheus still exists.

Then begins the JABAL AL-TARIF, celebrated for its tombs where the famous Nag Hammadi Gnostic papyri are said to have been discovered. Beginning from the village of QASR AL-SAYYAD and as far as Qina, the Nile flows from east to west. The area is celebrated for the first foundations of Saint PACHOMIUS. Near the present village of Qasr al-Sayyad is Dayr Anba Palaemon and not far away DAYR AL-MALAK; then a little above the village of Faw al-Qibli, which preserves the memory of the second foundation of Pachomius, Pbow. The first and most celebrated cenobitic foundation, that of Tabennese, is supposed to have been situated not far away but near the river. It is necessary to go up as far as QUS to come upon a monastery still in existence, DAYR ABU SAYFAYN (of Anba Bakhum) at Hijazah, to the south of Qus.

In the Theban region are Dayr Anba Bakhum near al- Madamud, Karnak (famous for temples that preserve important traces of their occupation by the monks), and to the south of Luxor, east of the town of al-Tud, the monastery called DAYR ANBA ABSHAY, where a quantity of blocks deriving from the neighboring temple of Montou were reused. Finally, shortly before arriving at the height of Isna, come the ruins called DAYR AL-RUMANIYYAH (Greek monastery, although why it was given this name is not known).

Monasteries Not Precisely Located

The papyri give some names of monasteries that cannot be placed on a map; Barison’s study (1938, pp. 128-34) lists several. In the Thinite nome (the region of Jirja) was the Dayr Jeremiah. In the nome of Dandarah was the monastery of Pampane, which is perhaps that of al-Ballas, near the village of al-Dayr. In the nome of Apollonopolis Minor (today Qus) was the monastery of Apa Agenios, which is no doubt the name of the founder. In the nome of Diaspolis Magna (the modern Karnak and Luxor), the following monasteries should be noted: that of Pisentius, probably from the name of its founder, was situated in the Castrum Memnonium, hence on the left bank; that of Saint Phoibammon no doubt designates the monastery established in the temple of Hatschepsut; another monastery was situated near the Castrum Memnonium, but its name is not known.

At Apollonopolis Magna (today Idfu) there were several monasteries, that of the abbot Agenes, that of Bawlos, and that of the abbot Patois; these were in the village of Tanaithis, the site of which is known, although because of the provenance of the papyri it may have been in the nome of Apollonopolis Magna. Near this same town (today Idfu), Remondon thinks that formulae in documents of the sixth to eighth centuries “for Saint Stephen” and “for Saint Cyriacus” designate churches or perhaps monasteries (1953, pp. 208-9), Dayr Mar Stefanos and Dayr Mar Kyriakos.

Adding to the testimony of the Greek Lives of Pachomius, the Vita prima mentions a foundation (hence a Pachomian monastery) near Armant under the generalship of Theodorus and therefore at the end of the fourth century. The information is also given by the Vita tertia (ed. Halkin, 1932, pp. 84 and 388); the Coptic Lives do not give this indication.

ABU SALIH THE ARMENIAN at the beginning of the thirteenth century mentions several monasteries for which there is no other attestation and which cannot be located. In the region of Qena he notes two monasteries of Saint and of Saint Michael without giving any further details (1895, p. 281), but he remarks that in his time they were already in ruins. In the district of Qift he indicates seven monasteries, that of the Virgin, that of Anba Shinudah, that of Saint Victor (DAYR MAR BUQTUR near Qamulah), that of nuns dedicated to Saint George, two monasteries of Saint Theodorus, and one of Saint Antony, Dayr Anba Antuniyus (p. 281).

In the town of Qus he points out three monasteries: of the Michael, of Anba Shinudah, and of Saint Pachomius (p. 280); in the region near Qamulah he notes two monasteries, that of Nob and that of Saint Theodore, without specifying whether they were within the town of Qamulah or outside of it; near Qamulah and close to a village named (A)bu Haruq, today disappeared, he points out a monastery named for Saint Michael (p. 284).

The State of the Provinces (A.H. 777/A.D. 1375-1376) mentions (Sacy’s translation, p. 703) a Dayr Qattan in the province of Qus, for which Ramzi suggests seeing the survival in the village of Naj‘ Qurqutan (Vol. 1, p. 261). It is between Danfiq and Qamulah, hence on the left bank.

Some monasteries are named in Coptic documents and are cataloged by Crum (1926, Vol. 1, pp. 108-115). These are in the diocese of Qift, at Ape, Karnak; Sergius and the topos (perhaps a simple church) of Papnute, at Jeme (today Madinat Habu); Patermuthius, Menas, the topos (see above) of Psote; and Saint Victor. They also indicate in the kula (a regional word designating a hill) of Djeme the monastery of Saint Paul. Finally, they mention at Armant the topos (perhaps monastery) of the forty Martyrs (Dayr al-Arba‘in Shahid) or of Saint Theophilus (Dayr Theophilus).

The Sahidic recension of the SYNAXARION of the Copts (twelfth, thirteenth centuries) mentions in the region of Armant two monasteries, Dayr Anba Daryus and Dayr Ghubriyal, without further detail.

One of the letters received by Bishop Pisentius in the seventh century makes mention of the monastery of or Papas (i.e., priest) Macarius (son) of Patoure, opposite (P)Shanhur, hence to the south of Qus (Revillout, 1900, pp. 146-47).


  • Barison, P. “Ricerche sui monasteri dell’Egitto byzantino ed arabo secondo i documenti dei papiri greci.” Aegyptus 18 (1938):29-148.
  • Grohmann, A. Studien zur historischen Geographie und Verwaltung des frühmittalalterlichen Ägypten. Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften philologie—historische Klasse. Denkschriften 77, Vol. 2, Abhandlungen. Vienna, 1959.
  • Halkin, F. Sancti Pachomii vitae graecae. Subsidia hagiographica 19. Brussels, 1932.
  • Muhammad Ramzi. Al-Qamus al-Jughrafi, 2 vols. in 5 pts. Cairo, 1953-1963.
  • Rémondon, R. Papyrus grecs d’Apollonos ano. Documents de fouilles de l’Institut français d’Archéologie orientale 19. Cairo, 1953.
  • Revillout, E. “Textes coptes extraits de la correspondance de Saint Pésunthius.” Revue égyptologique 9 (1900):146-47.
  • Sacy, de, trans. and ed. Relation de l’Egypte de ‘Abd al-Latif. Paris, 1810. “L’Etat des provinces” is translated in an appendix. Winlock, H. E., and W. E. Crum. The Monastery of Epiphanius at Thebes, 2 vols. New York, 1926.