SHAMS AL-DIN (Munisis)

A small Romano-Byzantine a little more than one mile to the north of Bars in the south of the oasis of and at the fork of the great track heading from Hibis toward the southwest in the direction of Dush and the valley. This village contains a small church with columns that was cleared by the Institut français d’Archéologie orientale in 1976. This building of modest dimensions consists of a choir, a nave and two transepts, a side entrance, a vestibule, an access corridor, and a kathesterion (room for welcoming passing strangers) leading to the principal entrance of the church.

Almost seventy Greek graffiti and mural drawings adorn its walls providing abundant information about the faith and worship of the time. They date from the middle or second half of the fourth century and, together with a few Greek ostraca found in situ, they raise the possibility of tracing its origin in all probability to the Constantinian period.

The faithful, who did not leave their name or their function, concentrated rather on imploring help and solace from God and Christ. Thus the most common type of graffito is “N, slave of Jesus Christ,” or “N, slave of God.” The writers of the graffiti oftentimes refer to the oneness of in such statements as “one God” or “1 God.” Invocations are made to God as savior and to Jesus as protector. Occasionally we read the inscription “Christ shall conquer.”

Twice the epithet “lord” is used to qualify Christ, while the church is described as “the house of God,” seconded by a formula reading “one God, Jesus Christ the of souls.” From this collection of inscriptions one has the sense of a great simplicity and antiquity. The absence of any reference to the Virgin and the saints confirms that we are at the very beginning of what came to be known as the Peace of the Church, when Constantine legalized its status through the of Milan.

The church of Shams al-Din is presumably one of the oldest churches of Egypt, and its construction fits perfectly into the prodigious extension of church construction in Egypt at the beginning of the age of Constantine. The ancient name of Shams al- Din, Munisis, as the graffiti inform us, literally signifies “water of Isis,” which is a reminder of the cult of Isis that had flourished in the oasis in the Roman period.

  • Wagner, G. “Inscriptions et graffiti inédits grecs de la Grande Oasis.” Bulletin de l’Institut français d’Archéologie orientale 76 (1976):283-88. For the texts from Shams al-Din, see pp. 285-86; cf. Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum, vol. 26 (1976-1977), nos. 1783-1791, ed. H. W. Pleket and R. S. Stroud. Alphen aan den Rijn, Netherlands, 1979.