Qurnat Mar‘I



Qurnat Mar‘i is the name of ruins of a small hermitage built over an ancient of a late period. It is on the north slope of the hill called Mar‘i, from the name of a Muslim saint buried on the summit, on the of the Nile opposite Luxor. There is no ancient attestation. Winlock notes it in making his inventory of the monastic sites of the region (Winlock and Crum, Vol. 1, p. 15). U. Monneret de Villard believed he had found a church there with a plan approximating the churches of Georgia (pp. 495-500).

The French Institute, which has the concession in this sector, excavated this site from 1971 to 1975, and reaped an abundant harvest of ostraca (2,000) and fragments of pottery, with and without decoration (more than 400 decorated pots that have been reassembled), but the results of this excavation have not yet been published. Only the general plan and a study of the mummies exhumed have been published (Castel, Vol. 2, pp. 121-43).

The site was called the topos of Saint Mark the Evangelist. The term topos (“place” in Greek) indicates that this was not a true monastery (besides, there is no surrounding wall) but the center where each week, on Saturday and Sunday, hermits living in the caves or tombs of the neighborhood gathered together. This topos was already known from the documents of the region (see Winlock and Crum, Vol. 1, p. 108), but its precise position was not known. Its superior, Mark, was a priest who wrote various documents (Winlock and Crum, Vol. 1, p. 223).

The plan published by Castel reveals a church and some adjoining rooms that are insufficient to constitute a true cenobium. Qurnat Mar‘i appears to have come to an end when the Muslim troops arrived, for the written documents do not show any Arab name. Perhaps it disappeared at the time of the Persian invasion (619-629), for a mummy of a monk shows that he died a violent death.

  • Castel, G. “Etude d’une momie copte.” In Hommages à S. Sauneron, Vol. 2, pp. 121-43. Cairo, 1979.
  • Monneret de Villard, U. “Una chiesa di tipo georgiano nella necropoli tebana.” In Coptic Studies in Honor of W. E. Crum, pp. 495-500. Boston, 1950.
  • Sauneron, S. Travaux de l’Institut français d’Archéologie orientale, 1969-1974. Cairo, 1974. See pp. 40, 82-84, 120-21, 176-77 (with several photos of the site).
  • Winlock, H. E., and W. E. Crum. The Monastery of at Thebes, 2 vols. New York, 1926.



Monastery of Mark the

Set in the middle of the Theban necropolis, Qurnat Mar‘i dominates the ruins of the great pharaonic temples: the Ramesseum to the east and the temple of DAYR AL-MADINAH to the northwest. A narrow strip of desert separates it from the cultivated areas. The monastery is built on the northeast part of the hill, near the summit. It is oriented northeast/southwest, and with its terraces covers an area of about 15 yards (14m) on each side. Its archaeological material dates it to the sixth and seventh centuries.

In its present form the monastery is composed of two buildings of mud brick. The main building, to the north and situated near the summit, occupies a natural terrace. Enclosed by high walls, it consists of communal rooms: in the center, the church with an apse; to the south, the refectory with two storage jars for water; to the west, a workroom with three loom pits; to the north, utility rooms and storage chambers. In the northwest corner of the building, an ancient pharaonic drives into the rock. A small is near the entrance to the tomb, and granaries occupy its lower part. The other building, south of the main building, includes three cells and a kitchen backing against the rock. These open directly on the access path to the monastery. These two buildings are separated by a passage. A spacious artificial platform to the east of the church was the monks’ cemetery.

Immediately south of the cells, on a lower level, two pharaonic tombs contained some materials dating from the period of the monastery. They were inhabited by monks of the small community.

The pharaonic and its court are the oldest part of the monastery. They were occupied by an anchorite, who left some graffiti in them. Then a chapel and communal buildings were built at the entrance to the tomb, in of this hermit. These structures underwent numerous alterations and extensions before acquiring their present appearance. The phases of construction may be summarized thus:

  1. and its court
  2. first and second churches
  3. rooms on the north, with kitchen on the outside of the monastery, to the northeast;
  4. rooms on the south and west, with new kitchen to the southeast;
  5. cells to the south of the main building, then eastern platform converted into a cemetery;
  6. some secondary alterations when the monastery became a place of pilgrimage.

The small size of the communal buildings, the few cells (fewer than six with the two neighboring pharaonic tombs), the arrangements for work (six looms in all), and the in the cemetery (five or six) indicate that even in its best days the community was one of five or six monks only.

The numerous texts gathered up (about 1,400 Coptic ostraca and one in Greek) allow some insight into aspects of the daily life of this small community: weaving and trade in wine, for instance. The figure of Apa Markos, HEGUMENOS of the monastery, emerges from these letters.

The pottery (thousands of potsherds as well as 100 complete amphorae and remains of nearly 2,000 broken amphorae) includes a number of unpainted objects of various shapes: dishes, plates, cups, “pseudo-sigillate” bowls, kitchenware, ovens, amphorae, water jars, basins, vats and mud bins. There is also another group consisting of a series of with geometrical designs: vegetable or animal decoration. These are applied in either one or more colors, black or white on a red base, or in black or red on a lighter base (unpublished notes by Mme C. Neyret).

All these elements show that the monastery of Mark the had several stages of development:

  1. a stage intermediate between the period of absolute independence for the hermits and the period of strict organization with clearly defined community rules, characterized by a series of cells or lauras scattered around the cell of a hermit of renown who had attracted monks and become their head;
  2. a stage of organized community life within an enclosed space;
  3. a stage at which the monastery was no longer occupied by monks and had become a place of pilgrimage.

  • Bonomi, J. “Topographical Notes on Western Thebes Collected in 1830.” Annales du Service des antiquités de l’Egypte 7 (1906):82, no. 42.
  • Castel, G. “Etude d’une momie copte.” In Hommages à S. Sauneron, Vol. 2, pp. 121-43. Cairo, 1979.
  • Monneret de Villard, U. “Una chiesa di tipo georgiana nella necropli Tebana.” In Coptic Studies in Honour of W. E. Crum, pp. 495-500. Boston, 1950.
  • Sauneron, S. “Travaux de l’IFAO en 1970-71.” Bulletin de l’Institut français d’Archéologie orientale 71 (1971):236-76.
  • . “Travaux de l’IFAO en 1972-1973.” Bulletin de l’Institut français d’Archéologie orientale 72 (1973):218-263.
  • . “Les Travaux de l’IFAO en 1973-1974.” Bulletin de l’Institut français d’Archéologie orientale 73 (1974):184-233.
  • Winlock, H. E., and W. E. Crum. The Monastery of at Thebes, Vol. 1, p. 15. New York, 1926.