Monastery Of St. Macarius


It is the southernmost monastery in Wadi al-Natrun. The monastery bears the name of its patron St. Macarius, who died in about 390. This monastery became an official occasional residence for the Coptic patriarchs toward the middle of the sixth century when the Byzantine authorities did not allow them to reside in Alexandria. Thirty patriarchs were chosen from among the monks of the Monastery of St. Macarius, and many patriarchs consecrated the chrism there. Epiphanius of Jerusalem (ca. 800) speaks of “a thousand cells” dominated by a fortress at the site of the monastery.


The old church of St. Macarius was dedicated in later times to St. John the Baptist and Patriarch Benjamin I (626-665). Its 12th-century paintings feature interesting scenes from the Old and New Testaments: Moses and Aaron, the sacrifice of Abraham, the meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek, the purification of Isaiah, Jacob’s dream, Job, the three Hebrews, John the Baptist holding a medallion containing “the lamb,” the Annunciation to Zachariah, the Annunciation, the Nativity, Christ and Nathanael, Christ flanked by the Apostles and evangelists, the Resurrection, the Ascension, the Twenty-four Elders of the Apocalypse, and many saints as well.

The monastery’s keep or tower is one of the best preserved of its kind in Egypt. It dates from the 13th century and contains a number of chapels and a church. Some of the chapels are decorated with the figures of famous Coptic saints such as Sts. Antony, Paul of Thebes, and Pachomius. By the middle of the 14th century, the monastery began to decline because of the Black Death, the Mamluk persecution, and the impoverishment of the Coptic Church.

The monastery’s library possessed valuable manuscripts for the Coptic literature and liturgy, of which the vast majority were removed to Europe. Beginning in 1969 the monastery witnessed a “renaissance” when Father Matta al-Miskin and his disciples started to revive monastic life there. See also MONASTICISM, EGYPTIAN.



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