MONASTERY OF ST. SHENUTE AT SOHAG
It is known as the “White Monastery” and is located about eight kilometers to the west of Sohag. The monastery was founded by St. Shenute’s uncle, Pjol. After his uncle’s death in 385, Shenute became the monastery’s abbot. The monastery grew considerably under Shenute and became a significant religious center with many acts of philanthropy. It continued to be in use probably as late as the 14th century.
By the 15th century, the monastery was ruined and nothing remained except the church, which is the most significant Christian building to have survived in Upper Egypt. The nave is separated from its two side aisles by two rows of columns. The remaining steps of the oldest stone ambon (pulpit) in Egypt stand at the north aisle. The church’s exterior resembles a pharaonic temple built of limestone blocks of a considerable size. The facade of the blocklike structure features a slight batter, topped with a cavetto cornice and provided with waterspouts. But the architectural sculpture of the interior derives from Hellenistic and Roman sources.
It is comprised of approximately 40 beautifully decorated niches with semicolumns (or pilasters), capitals, and gables. The structure of the sanctuary is a triconch, flanked at the north by a staircase and at the south by an octagonal chamber with a baptismal basin. It features profusely ornamented entablatures. A considerable part of the church’s splendid architectural sculptures were executed in the middle of the fifth century. The semidomes of the triconch sanctuary are ornamented with murals that date from the 11th or the 12th century. They show the enthroned Christ with a shell motif over his head and cross-flanked by the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist (Deesis). See also MONASTICISM, EGYPTIAN.