Built in the sixth century in Wadi al-Natrun as a result of a schism caused by Theodosian monks, wholeft the neighboring Monastery of St. Pshoi. By the second half ofthe ninth century, the monastery was simultaneously inhabited both by Syrian monks and Coptic monks. One of its most important abbots was Moses of Nisibis (ca. 907-943), who originated from NorthSyria. He brought 250 Syriac manuscripts from Mesopotamia andNorth Syria to the monastery in 932.
He constructed the woodendoors of the sanctuary of the Church of the Holy Virgin Mary andvery probably the entire sanctuary, which is decorated with stuccoornaments that are reminiscent of the earlier decoration of Samara.The khurus of this church is the oldest of its kind in Egypt.
Beginning in 1991 several segments of wall paintings layered on top of each other were uncovered there, together with Coptic andSyriac inscriptions. These murals range in date from the 7th or 8thcentury to the 13th century. The majority represents scenes fromthe Old and the New Testaments, Apostles, saints, patriarchs, andbishops.
Some of them provide very interesting iconographies thatdo not occur frequently in Egypt, such as the scene of the Annunciation with the Prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, Moses, and Daniel flankingthe Virgin and the Angel Gabriel; the scene of Abraham, Isaac, andJacob in Paradise; the scene of Abgar of Edessa holding the mandylion (a holy relic of a piece of cloth. It is believed that an image of theface of Jesus was imprinted upon it, perhaps similar to the Shroud of Turin); and the conversion of the eunuch of Candace.
A Dormitionscene is indeed unique. It shows the Virgin lying in bed surrounded by the 12 Apostles and six women, three on each side, swinging censers. The Coptic text describes these women as “virgins.” It iswell known, however, that handling of censers is confined to men in the Orthodox churches.
In 1088, there were 60 monks in the monastery. In 1515-1516, 43 monks inhabited the monastery, 18 of whom were Syrians. The newongoing projects to discover and conserve more significant muralsand Syriac manuscripts makes this monastery one of the most important Christian monuments. See also MONASTICISM, EGYPTIAN.