A type of church building that first makes its appearance in the first half of the eleventh century. Outside of Egypt it is to be found in Greece, and from the twelfth century, in Islamic architecture. In this type of building the whole naos area is roofed over by a single dome, carried by eight supports arranged in the shape of an octagon. In single-aisled designs of this building type, the four side supports are developed as simple pilasters. Greece is the original domain of the octagon-domed churches, with examples to be found especially in the island of Chios and Cyprus. If these churches are surrounded by an ambulatory and side chapels—as is the case in the examples scattered predominantly over the Greek mainland—the space between the pillars carrying the load is naturally left open. In the development of the other elements, such as the narthex and the sanctuary, these churches agree with the other building types of the same period.
The oldest examples of the octagon-domed church are found in Greece. The churches of Nea Moni (on Chios), Hosios Lukas, Daphne, and the church of Saint Nicodemus in Athens, today in Russian ownership, were particularly important. All the churches mentioned were erected before the middle of the eleventh century. The remaining examples are of later date. They were built down to the fifteenth century.
Apart from the evidence known only from the literature brought together in P. Grossmann (1985, p. 348), six examples have so far been identified in the Nile Valley, three of them in close proximity to Aswan: the churches of Dayr Anba Hadra, Dayr Qubbat al-Hawa, and Dayr al-Shaykhah. All three examples are provided with an ambulatory. In the church of Dayr Anba Hadra two octagonal domes are in addition set one behind the other. The three remaining examples are single-aisled, and are located at Bayt al-Wali and Kulb (both in Nubia) and at Dayr al-Qusayr at Turah to the south of Cairo. Moreover, Dayr al-Qusayr is a monastery that is in Greek (Melchite) hands, and there is scarcely any doubt that knowledge of this type of building came to Egypt through Melchite circles. These octagon-domed churches are not, therefore, a type of building indigenous to Egypt. However, it was so widely assimilated that the remaining elements, such as, for example, the development of the sanctuary, are typically Egyptian. An octagon-domed building belonging to Islamic architecture is the Mashhad of Yahya al-Shabih in Cairo, deriving from the twelfth century.
- Grossmann, P. Mittelalterliche Langhauskuppelkirchen und verwandte Typen in Oberägypten, pp. 54-64, 147-56. Glückstadt, 1982.
- . “Ein neuer Achtstützenbau im Raum von Aswan.” Mélanges G. Mokhtar, Vol. 1. Cairo, 1985.
- Monneret de Villard, U. Il monastero di S. Simeone presso Aswan, Vol. 1. Milan, 1927.
- Novello, A. A. Grecia Bizantina, pp. 50-60. Milan, 1969.
- Stikas, E. L’église byzantine de Christianou. Paris, 1951.