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Wadi Natroun

The quasi-oasis of Wadi Natroun, just off the Desert Road between Cairo and Alexandria, takes its name -and oasis nature- from deposits of natron salts, the main ingredient in ancient mummifications

The four Wadi Natroun monasteries have all been totally ruined and rebuilt at least once since their foundation during the fourth century. Each has a high wall surrounding one or more churches, a central keep entered via a drawbridge, containing a bakery, storerooms and wells enabling the monks to withstand siege, and diverse associated chapels.

Their fortified exteriors, necessary in centuries past to resist Bedouin raiders, cloak what are today very forward-looking, purposeful monastic establishments.

Deir Anba Bishoi :
Deir Anba Bishoi is the most accessible monastery only 10km from the highway. It contains five churches, the oldest of which is St. Bishoi’s which features three “haikals” sanctuaries dating from the fourth, ninth and tenth centuries. There’s also a fifth-century well where Berber tribesmen washed their swords after massacring the 49 Martyrs of the monastery of St. Makerinus. The multi-domed building furthest away from the entrance is the residence of Pope Shenouda III, the current Coptic Pope. Most of the Coptic popes have been chosen from the monks of Wadi Natroun and Deir Anba Bishoi in particular.

Deir Al-Suryani :
Deir Al-Suryani was named after a group of Syrian monks who used to live there. Its principal church of the Virgin was built around 980 and contains a sanctuary with stucco ornamentation and a superb ebony “Door of Prophecies” inlaid with ivory panels depicting the disciples and the seven epochs of the Christian era. dark passage-way at the back of the church leads to the cave where Bishoi tied his hair to a chain hanging from the ceiling to prevent himself sleeping for four days until a vision of Christ appeared. he monastery has a modern library in which the monastery’s antique volumes are lovingly maintained.

Deir El-Baramus :
Deir El-Baramus lies 4 km north to Deir Anba Bishoi. This monastery was found by St. Makarius in 340making it the oldest of the four moanstries of Wadi Natroun. Its Name “Monastery of the Romans” honours Maximus and Domidus , two sons of the Roman Emperor Valentinus who died from excessive fasting. Their bodies were buried in a crypt below the Church of the Virgin. Restoration works have revealed layers of medieval frescoes in the nave, the western end of which incorporates a fourth-century pillar with Syriac inscriptions. The ninth-century church shares a vine-laden courtyard with a keep and four other churches.

Deir Abu Maqar :
Deir Abu Maqar is the oldest and the furthest of the monasteries founded by St Makarius who died in 390. It lies 18km southwest of St. Bishoi. It is enclosed by a circular wall ten meters high. In times past, two giant millstones stood ready to be rolled across to buttress the door against Beduin raiders. Since its nadir in 1969, when only six monks lived here, the monastery has acquired a hundred brethren, a modern printing press and a farm employing 600 workers. The monks have also mastered pinpoint irrigation systems and bovine embryo transplant technology.


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