Minnesota in Egypt

The Neighborhood of the White Monastery

A cluster of important monastic sites, recognized and unrecognized, lies in the area of the modern towns of Sohag and Akhmim, where the Nile makes a deep bend.

go to site map,or to White Monastery, or to Red Monastery

The White Monastery is located on the west side of the Nile, 12 km from the present city of Sohag, which is 450.5 km south of Cairo, 201.5 km north of Luxor.

In addition to the core monastery, Shenute also presided over a neighboring monastery for women, (Krawiec 2001). Its site has recently been identified at Atripe, about three kilometers south of the White Monastery (not on these maps).

Five kilometers to the north is the Red Monastery, now in a small village.

When these monasteries were founded, several earlier monasteries already stood on the opposite side of the river, near modern Akhmim (ancient Panopolis). several more came into existence later, one of which functions today.

In the Early Christian period, the largest city in this neighborhood was Panopolis (modern Akhmim) on the eastern bank of the Nile. Panopolis was a thriving center of industry, particularly textile making and stone carving. It was also a center of learning and, in the Early Christian period, a center of debate between various religious groups probably incuding pagans, gnostics, practitioners of magic, and monks.

Documents tell us that the father of cenobitic monasticism, Pachomius, founded several monasteries in or near Akhmim in the early fourth century (see time line, and fourth century).

Their sites have not been clearly determined, but it seems likely that one of them stood at or near the site of the present monastery of Dayr al-Shohada or Dayr al-Wustani, one of three monasteries(or" dayrs") in a row northeast of the city near the villages of al-Hawawish and al-Salamuni. More monasteries sprang up later, including two in the Wadi Bir el Ain and those shown on this map. On these, see most recently "Transformations of Ecclesiastical Space," McNally 1998.

Also Gauthier 1905, etc.; Kuhlmann 1983; Meinardus 1965: McNally and Schrunk 1993, Samuel al-Syriani 1990; Timm 1984).