Egypt’s White Monastery – Deir el-Abiad

One of the most impressive monasteries under the Armenians during the 11th and 12th centuries is the White Monastery (Deir el-Abiad) near Sohag, situated about 500km south of Cairo and northwest from Aswan.

Originally built in 4th century as a Coptic Church by St. Shenute’s uncle, it was also a place of exile for Bahram (al-Armani) – who, after restoring order and peace in the country at the request of Caliph al-Hafiz, was appointed by the latter as the vizier in 1135.

The fresco painted in the main apse of the church of this monastery consists of Armenian inscriptions that present an unresolved riddle. The inscriptions are situated next to the representation of enthroned Christ blessing with his right hand and holding the Bible with his left one. On both sides, Christ is surrounded by Evangelists and their symbols, the Holy Virgin and the Apostles. Also on both sides of Christ, there are the initials HS (Hisus) and KS (Kristos); above the first and below the second are the Greek equivalents. Next to the image of Christ, the name Grigor is written – the same first Catholicos of Armenians (1075/6–1117) ordained by Vkayaser.

There are two white areas on the sides with 3 groups of inscriptions. The literal translations are 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.”


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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