The Coptic name of the town that was known in Greek as Ptolemais Hermiou (so named by the pharaoh Ptolemy I) and called al-Minshah today. The town is located on the west bank of the Nile in Upper Egypt some 7 miles (11 km) south of Akhmim.
In the Roman and the Byzantine periods, this town grew rapidly, and its bishop seems to have played an important role, if we may judge from the story of the martyrdom, preserved in Latin and in Coptic, of one of its bishops named PSOTE. He died under the emperor DIOCLETIAN. His tomb, included in a monastery on the bank opposite the town, is still an important pilgrimage site; this is DAYR ANBA BISADAH.
The writings of Saint ATHANASIUS in the fourth century testify to the importance of Ptolemais/Psoï as an episcopal seat. Ptolemais was the most populous town after Alexandria and after 450 became the residence of the dux (general) of the Thebaid.
It should be noted that Pachomius’ disciple and successor Theodorus (c. 307-368) is said to have founded a monastery there, according to the famous “Letter of Ammon” (Halkin and Festugière, 1982, pp. 110, 160). The text specifies “near the town,” but does not give the name of the monastery.
Unfortunately it is difficult to trace the history of the Christian community in Pso because of a lack of documents. It appears that the episcopal see suffered the same vicissitudes as the town itself. At the consecration of the chrism in 1320 we do indeed read that a bishop of “Absay” (Psoï) was present (Munier, 1943, p. 39), and the town is mentioned in a seventeenth-century manuscript that must be a copy of a thirteenth-century manuscript (Vatican Library, Coptic manuscript 45; Munier, 1943, p. 64).
It does seem that on the ecclesiastical level, which follows the civil evolution with some delay, the town gradually lost its importance, and hence at an uncertain date its bishopric was suppressed to the benefit of Jirja, which became the metropolis of the province. It is only some 12.5 miles (20 km) to the north, also on the left bank. In fact, the traveler J. VANSLEB, who sojourned in Egypt in 1672 and 1673, makes no mention of “Absay” in the list of “actual bishoprics” he drew up, although he does mention it in his register of ancient episcopal sees.
He names “Girgah” as the present bishopric (1677, pp. 22 and 27; he calls it “Ibsai”). The Jesuit C. SICARD, who stayed in Egypt from 1712 to 1726, speaks of it as a small Christian community, but not as the seat of a bishop (1982, Vol. 3, p. 232). S. CLARKE, reproducing the official patriarchate list of the churches attaching to this or that bishopric, links the churches of “al-Minshaat” with the bishopric of Jirja (1912, pp. 213-14).
O. Meinardus, who gives the list of the present bishoprics (that of 1964 in his first edition, that of 1971 in the second), indicates a bishop of Jirja and not of Psoï. The name is not even coupled with that of Jirja, proof that the title of Psoi/Ptolemais has long disappeared. At all events, that of Jirja is joined to the bishopric of Nag Hammadi.
Likewise O. H. E. Burmester, in his book The Egyptian or Coptic Church (1967), in giving an account of the dioceses of the patriarchate of Alexandria, mentions the diocese of Jirja, which includes that of Nag Hammadi, and not the ancient diocese of Psoï.
- Burmester, O. H. E. The Egyptian or Coptic Church. Cairo, 1967. Clarke, S. Christian Antiquities in the Nile Valley. Oxford, 1912. Halkin, F., and A.-J. Festugière. Le Corpus athénien de saint Pachôme. Cahiers d’Orientalisme 2. Geneva, 1982.
- Meinardus, O. Christian Egypt, Ancient and Modern. 1st ed., Cairo, 1965; 2nd ed., Cairo, 1977.
- Munier, H. Recueil des listes épiscopales de l’église copte. Cairo, 1943.
- Muyser, J. “Contribution a l’étude des listes épiscopales de l’église copte.” Bulletin de la Société d’archéologie copte 10 (1944):115-76.
- Sicard, C. Oeuvres, 3 vols., ed. S. Sauneron and M. Martin. Bibliothèque d’études 83-85. Cairo, 1982.
- Vansleb, J. M. Histoire de l’église d’Alexandrie. Paris, 1677.