The Church of St. Pshoi, view to the central altar room.

The Monastery of St. Pshoi (WADI AL-NATRUN)

The Monastery of St. Pshoi (WADI AL-NATRUN)

SAINT PSHOI WAS A FOURTHCENTURY ANCHORITE living in Wadi al-Natrun. After a Berber raid, he fled to a place near the city of Antinoe (Middle Egypt) where he died at the beginning of the fifth century. In the ninth century, his relics were brought back to the monastery that was named after him.

Although historical information is scarce, the Monastery of St. Pshoi undoubtedly belongs to the oldest monastic settlements in Wadi al-Natrun. It must therefore have suffered from the numerous Berber raids, resulting in renovations and the reconstruction of churches, cells, and utility buildings and, in the ninth century, the building of the first walls and a tower for refuge. Apart from an extensive restoration of the church and buildings by Patriarch Benjamin II (d. 1339), little more is known from the following centuries.

The Church of St. Pshoi, in the southern part of the old enclosure, most probably dates to the rebuilding of the monastery after the raids of 830-849. Originally, it was built on a basilican plan, with a deep khurus and an altar room with narrow side chambers. Afterward, the southern side chamber was enlarged and used as an altar room. Still at a later date, a small church dedicated to the equestrian saint Iskhirun was added along the south wall and an adjoining chapel was constructed in the northeastern comer, at present dedicated to Patriarch Benjamin II. During the restoration under his patriarchate, the vaults of the roofs were replaced. Remarkable are the high doors to the central altar room with their beautifully sculptured panels (twelfth century). In 1989, twelfth-century wall paintings were discovered in the Chapel of Benjamin. Saints, angels, (some of) the Twenty-Four Priests, and the Three Hebrews in the Fiery Furnace (Dan. 3:1:97) could be identified.

Beginning in the seventeenth century, Western visitors reported repeatedly that the number of monks living in the monastery was dwindling. At present, however, it is a flourishing community and one of the busiest in Wadi al-Natrun. Before his election, his holiness Patriarch Anba Shenouda III was a monk here and a patriarchal residence has been built outside the old walls. A large farm with cattle and gardens has been developed.

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