MONASTERY OF ST. PSHOI (ANBA BISHAY) AT SOHAG
Situated about three kilometers to the north of the Monastery of St. Shenute at Sohag. It is known as the Red Monastery owing to the color of its outer walls, which were built of red bricks. Al-Maqrizi (1364-1442) used the two names of the monastery: “Red Monastery also called monastery of Abu Bishai.” St. Pshoi was an older companion of St. Shenute.
It is not known whether St. Pshoi was actually the founder of the monastery or if it was only dedicated to him. The monastery lived in the shadow of the celebrated monastery of St. Shenute. Therefore, information about its history is scarce.
A Coptic manuscript dated to a.m. 807 (1091 a.d.) shows that the monastery was inhabited in the 11th century. In 1301, the painter Mercurius inscribed his name in the sanctuary of the church. In 1672, Johann Wansleben visited the monastery and found the church’s nave ruined. The Mamluks set fire to the monastery in 1798.
The church of the monastery dates from the late fifth century; the columns in the nave and the surrounding walls are probably a little younger, belonging to the sixth century. It is of a Basilican type with a triconch sanctuary and a long narrow hall along the south wall (The term triconch in architecture refers to a square, circular, or oblong room expanded on three sides by semicircular rooms.). Beautifully sculptured friezes decorate the northern and southern entrances.
The architectural sculptures of the sanctuary are the most significant as they belong to the church’s original structure. The walls are decorated with columns in two rows and between the columns are niches. The walls are painted and the colors enhance the effect of the architectural sculptures, adding an imitation of stone patterns or decorative designs. A project to clean and preserve the monastery’s murals was initiated in 2002.
The eastern semidome depicts the enthroned Christ with the Four Living Creatures, flanked by archangels. The northern semidome shows a monumental enthroned nursing Virgin Mary flanked by angels and the four prophets Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Daniel with their open scrolls. Their texts make reference to the miracle of the Virgin birth.
This unique scene can be dated to the late seventh or early eighth century. The southern semidome features the enthroned Christ flanked by John the Baptist and his father Zacharias, angels, evangelists, and patriarchs. After the completion of the conservation of the church’s murals, this monastery will be one of the most beautiful ancient monasteries of the world. See also MONASTICISM, EGYPTIAN.