The Cliff Churches of Dayr Rifa (ASYUT)
The history of the monasteries and CHURCHES IN EGYPT (ca. twelfth century) and the historian al-Maqrizi (d. 1442) both mention monasteries in the region of Dayr Rifa. However, none of these can be identified with certainty as the monastic settlement in the northern part of the Middle and New Kingdom tomb complex in the hills. In the seventeenth century the Dominican monk Vansleb mentioned a Monastery of the Blessed Virgin in the mountain behind the village of Rifa. In 1901, the Jesuit priest Jullien and the architect Somers Clarke both visited the site. They found a village community occupying the monastery and described both churches. A plan of the Church of the Virgin supplements Somers Clarke’s description.
The western end of the Church of the Virgin occupies a tomb chamber, while the eastern end (the altar room and side chambers) was built outside. The Church of St. Theodore (al-Amir Tadros) is established in the largest tomb. The small mud-brick structure occupies the northern half of the first hall. Neither church has been studied so far.
When the villagers left the monastery to settle in the village of Rifa at the foot of the mountains is not known. Dayr Rifa is now designated a military area and is difficult to visit. Twenty years ago the churches were dilapidated and empty. At present, they have been carefully renovated and are in use again.
Somers Clarke already noted the love and pride shown by the villagers for the Church of the Virgin. Prince Johann Georg, Duke of Saxony, who visited Dayr Rifa in 1930, confirms this affection. He recounts that at that time the authorities wanted to place the sculptured lintel from the entrance to the church in the Coptic Museum. The villagers declared that, if necessary, they were willing to defend their church by force of arms. Fortunately, it was unnecessary and the lintel is still in place. This example of protection of monuments deserves to be mentioned, wrote Prince Johann Georg.92
92 Johann Georg, Duke of Saxony, 1931,11.