“table of the brethren,” a standard element of monastery architecture, especially in cenobite monasticism, the room in which the monks took their common meals. According to the oldest examples so far identified in Egypt (Grossmann, 1982, pp. 162-63), the monks did not sit at long tables as is the custom today. Instead, they sat on benches arranged in the form of a circle, just as the Egyptian country folk still do during their work breaks in the fields. In the same way, the couches for the ancient meals for the dead, such as are found at al-Bagawat (Grossmann, 1982, pp. 78-79), are arranged in a semicircle. The seating arrangement of the meal described in the Coptic of Atrib during his stay in Constantinople (Amélineau, 1888, p. 43, fol. 48v) may not have been very different.

In order to accommodate as many such rings of seats as possible in one room, the refectories in Egypt were built with several aisles. The individual aisles were of equal width, and one ring of seats was provided for each of the bays formed by the columns. Most refectories contain two or three aisles. The largest examples so far identified in Egypt are the two refectories of DAYR AL-BALAY’ZAH, which both have three aisles. The refectories in the great monasteries were probably similar.

Very small refectories have only a single pillar standing in the middle of the room; the room is divided by arches thrown across to the four sides into four bays of roughly equal size (e.g., the present chapel of Mar Jirjis at DAYR ANBA BISHOI; cf. Evelyn-White, 1933, Vol. 3, pp. 161-62; DAYR AL-BARAMUS, the actual “monastic henhouse”; and Qasr al-Wizz). In the late Fatimid period, a middle-sized type was developed with four and nine symmetrically arranged bays (e.g., at Isna and Dayr Anba Bishoi in Wadi al-Natrun; cf. Evelyn-White, 1933, Vol. 3, p. 165, where this is described as “a large and nearly square building”).

The rings of seats were in several built of bricks. In the refectory of DAYR ANBA HADRA, they were distributed remarkably irregularly. The equipment of the refectory also included a water jug stand and, in later times, a lectern. In addition, the kitchen and storerooms were logically accommodated in the neighborhood of the refectory.


  • Amélineau, E. C., ed. Monuments pour servir à l’ de l’Egypte chrétienne aux IVe, Ve, VIe et VIIe siecles, Vol. 1. Mémoires publiés par les membres de la Mission archéologique française au Caire 4. Paris, 1888.
  • Evelyn-White, H. G. The Monasteries of the Wadi ‘n Natrun, Vol. 3. New York, 1933; repr., 1973.
  • Grossmann, P. Mittelalterliche Langhauskuppelkirchen und verwandte Typen in Oberägypten. Glückstadt, 1982.
  • Grossmann, P., and H. G. Severin. “Reinigungsarbeiten im Jeremiaskloster bei Saqqara.” Mitteilungen des deutschen archäologischen Instituts 38 (1982):155-93.
  • Monneret de Villard, U. Il Monastero di S. Simeone presso Aswan, Vol. 1, pp. 105-108. Milan, 1927.
  • Scanlon, G. T. “Excavations at el-Wizz.” Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 58 (1972):7-41.