The White Monastery of Egypt Under Armenians – Deir el-Abiad

The White Monastery of Egypt Under ArmeniansThe White Monastery named Deir el-Abiad is one of the most striking monasteries under Armenians of the 11th and 12th centuries. It is located in Egypt, near Sohag, about 500 kilometers south of Cairo and northwest of Aswan.

The White Monastery was originally built as a Coptic Church by St. Shenute’s uncle in the 4th century. Bahram al-Armani had been exiled there before bringing peace in the country at the request of Caliph al-Hafiz. Subsequently, Bahram was appointed the vizier in 1135 by the order of al-Hafiz.

The apse of a church of the White Monastery features a depiction of enthroned Christ holding the Bible in his left hand and blessing with his right hand. On both sides of Christ are Evangelists along with their symbols, the Holy Virgin, and the Apostles. In addition, there are initials HS (Hisus) and KS (Kristos, “Hisus Kristos”, “Jesus Christ” in Armenian).

Above the former and beneath the latter are the initials’ Greek equivalents. Next to the image of Christ is the name “Grigor”, the name of the first Katholicos of Armenians Grigor Lusavorich, as well as a fresco that contains Armenian inscriptions presenting a yet unresolved mystery.

3 groups of inscriptions on white areas are literally translated as follows:

“Theodorus, painter and scribe from the province of Kessun, near the bridge of Shenje from the village of Makhtelle – my father [is] a stonemason named Kristapor, God bless him and you and all the Armenians that are [held] in slavery in Egypt – [completed] during the patriarchate of Father Grigor, nephew [sister’s son] of Grigoris who is named Father Vahram. Christ, spreader of light have mercy on me the metagh. Khachatur. Christ have mercy on Sargis the metagh.”


From: Examples of Armenian Presence and Contacts in Egypt, Nubia and Ethiopia From 5th to 16th Century by Halina Walatek McKenney, Series Byzantina IX.

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