The Monastery of al-Baramus (WADI AL-NATRUN)
The name Baramus contains the Coptic romaios, the one of the Roman(s).’ According to Coptic tradition, these Romans are the fourth-century princes Maximus and Domitius, sons of the Emperor Valentinian I. They lived in Wadi al-Natrun under the spiritual guidance of St. Macarius the Great who, after their death, had a church built in their memory.
The present Monastery of al-Baramus is, in fact, a double monastery of the original monastery dedicated to the royal brothers, which was already in ruins in the eighteenth century/’ Double monasteries were founded in the sixth century by monks who were opposed to the doctrine of the Gaianite heresy, which stated that Christ was incorruptible and thereby denied his Incarnation. As a consequence, the Virgin Mary lost her position as Theotokos, the Godbearer. Monks adhering to the traditional views founded new establishments, often dedicated to the Mother of God.
Historical evidence for the monastery’s past is meager. It certainly shared the vicissitudes of fortune of the other monastic establishments in Wadi al-Natrun. Over the centuries, Berber raids caused considerable damage and, following attacks, churches, utility buildings, and cells had to be renovated and reconstructed. In the ninth century, walls and keeps were built to provide greater safety. The historical events and the plague of the fourteenth century had a large impact on the number of monks. A decline of monastic life in Wadi al-Natrun set in, and was only reversed at the beginning of the twentieth century.
The Church of the Virgin in the Monastery of al-Baramus is the oldest existing church in Wadi al-Natrun and still contains elements from the late sixth century. It was built on a basilican plan with a return-aisle and a tripartite sanctuary. A khurus was added in the seventh century. Later phases of rebuilding affected the roof (vaults and domes have replaced the wooden roof) and interior (remodeling of various parts) but not the size of the church.
During the most recent restoration (1979-1992), wall paintings were discovered in the nave, and in the central and southern altar rooms (thirteenth century). The walls above the colonnades of the nave were decorated with a series of twelve feasts of which fragments of the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Baptism of Christ, the Entry into Jerusalem (south wall), and Pentecost (north wall) have survived. In the central altar room, three apostles are painted on either side of the niche. The upper part shows the lower part of Abraham s Sacrifice (left) and the meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek (right). A later master painted the double composition in the niche (Christ enthroned above and the Virgin enthroned with Child accompanied by two archangels below). On the walls of the southern altar room, a series of fourteen saints was painted.
As with the other monasteries in Wadi al-Natrun, the Monastery of al-Baramus is now thriving. Outside the old walls, a guest house and retreat houses have been built. Water pumps have been installed, bringing about the development of vegetable gardens, orchards, and a farm.