THE FOUNDING FATHER OF THE MONASTERY ST. MACARIUS (Anba Maqar, ca. 300-390) was one of the first hermits in Wadi al-Natrun. According to his vita, a cherub took him by the hand and showed him the place where he should build cells and a church. This site must have been somewhere in the neighborhood of the present Monastery of St. Macarius.
Until the fourteenth century, when the decline of monastic life in Wadi al-Natrun set in, the History of the Patriarchs testifies to the important role of the monastery in ecclesiastical affairs such as the election and consecration of patriarchs. Traditionally, the new patriarch celebrated his first Mass in the Church of St. Macarius, retreated to the monastery during Lent, and consecrated the Chrism.’’ More than thirty patriarchs were monks from this monastery.
The monastic community has a similar history of destruction, renovation, rebuilding, and fortification as the other monasteries in the Wadi al-Natrun. The main church, dedicated to St. Macarius, is only part of the large church complex as it once existed. There used to be four altar rooms, each with its own nave while two of these also had side aisles. This unusual building was the outcome of a complicated building history spanning several centuries.
At present, the church consists of three altar rooms with two rectangular rooms in front, spanning the whole width of the church, the khurus, and the nave. The northernmost altar room (previously dedicated to St. Mark, now to St. John the Baptist) was built in the twelfth century and simultaneously painted with standing saints and subjects from the Old and New Testaments. The adjoining altar room, dedicated to St. Macarius, is better known as the sanctuary of Patriarch Benjamin, who restored the church in the seventh century. The paintings preserved were executed in the ninth century and show Christ enthroned and his apostles, equestrian saints, the Twenty-Four Priests of the Apocalypse, and scenes from the New Testament on the soffit of the entrance arch. In the nineteenth century, the church was rapidly falling into ruin and the two southern altar rooms had fallen down. Building activities at the beginning of the twentieth century preserved the two northern altar rooms; the remains of the naves were dismantled. The present southern altar room, dedicated to the Three Hebrews in the Fiery Furnace, was reconstructed in modem times.
In 1969, the monastery, at that time nearly deserted, was re-inhabited by a group of monks under the spiritual guidance of Father Matta al-Miskin (d. 2006). A thorough restoration and modernization project of the monastic buildings and churches was carried out. Moreover, a printing press was installed and pioneering agricultural activities resulted in a large farm.