Monastery Of The Syrians


Built in the sixth century in Wadi al-Natrun as a result of a schism caused by Theodosian monks, who left the neighboring Monastery of St. Pshoi. By the second half of the 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 North Syria. He brought 250 Syriac manuscripts from Mesopotamia and North Syria to the monastery in 932.

He constructed the wooden doors of the sanctuary of the Church of the Holy Virgin Mary and very probably the entire sanctuary, which is decorated with stucco ornaments 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 and Syriac inscriptions. These murals range in date from the 7th or 8th century to the 13th century. The majority represents scenes from the Old and the New Testaments, Apostles, saints, patriarchs, and bishops.

Some of them provide very interesting iconographies that do not occur frequently in Egypt, such as the scene of the Annunciation with the Prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, Moses, and Daniel flanking the Virgin and the Angel Gabriel; the scene of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob 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 the face of Jesus was imprinted upon it, perhaps similar to the Shroud of Turin); and the conversion of the eunuch of Candace.

A Dormition scene 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 is well 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 new ongoing projects to discover and conserve more significant murals and Syriac manuscripts makes this monastery one of the most important Christian monuments. See also MONASTICISM, EGYPTIAN.


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