The Monastery of al-Zawya ()

THE MONASTERY OF AL-ZAWYA, near the of al-Zawya, resembles a fortress. High walls topped with brickwork surround houses and a in an area of about 80×100 meters. The gate is situated in the west wall and narrow streets lead to a in the center, dedicated to St. , the twentieth (d. 373) and author of the Life of . Fragments of stone sculpture, decorative , funerary stelae, and inscriptions are built into the mud-brick walls of the houses and the enclosure walls. The monastery has become a small village, preserving its original outline completely.

Nothing is known about the history of the site or the church. Medieval sources are silent. Father Vansleb visited the Monastery of St. Athanasius in Zawya (Sauvie) in 1673. He had hoped to see some but was bitterly disappointed, and he does not mention anything about walls, a church, or the presence of monks.93 In 1901, Father admired the church (at that time severely damaged) and complained that no one could tell him the real name of the monastery or to whom the church was dedicated. He described the church and draws a parallel with the famous churches near , dedicated to St. Shenute and St. Pshai.”94

In contrast to these churches, the Church of St. Athanasius has no trilobed sanctuary but an with two side chambers, a , a nave, and side aisles, and a . The and are both barrel vaulted. The heavy brick columns in the nave most probably conceal more elegant columns: The upper part of is still visible. When a replaced the wooden roof, stronger supports were required and the original columns were encased.

The resemblance to the monasteries near Sohag lies in the system of decorative in the apse. Three round-headed flanked by were built in the lower wall and two doorways give access to the side chambers. Above, five smaller with broken pediments on are set on a continuous of sculpture. Finely sculptured bands accentuate all architectural features.

The architecture and sculpture have never been studied. Undoubtedly, the church has undergone several building phases. The reuse of older building elements in enclosure walls, houses, and the fagade of the church point to an ancient past. Sir concluded, “This great Deir or must be early, as it is surrounded by a wide stretch of rubbish mounds which go back to times.”95 Only thorough research will cast light on the history of the Monastery of al-Zawya.

 

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