Excavation and Surface Survey

at the White Monastery

Now one of two Archaeological Expeditions at Monastery sites under the auspices of the

Yale Egyptological Institute

Return to site map or White Monastery. Go on to technical explanation or building at D

Detail of satellite scene from Quickbird, manipulated by Todd Brenningmeyer.
Technical details about source and process appear on Brenningmeyer 2009 (Symposium paper) .

The church of the White Monastery, its floor gleaming in the sunlight, appears at the right (below photograph). Areas of recent excavation can be seen (see detail below). The graveyard fills the center left, and beyond it begin some of the orchards and other areas under cultivation.
For a plan of the structures so far excavated in this area,
White Monastery site.
(plan of Yale project, not dated, now [April 2012] apparently removed)
also fig. 1 in Bolman et al. 2010, pdf.)

During the last two decades of the twentieth century, excavations were carried out in this area by the local Inspectorate.

A brief publication appeared in Mahmoud ali Mohammed 1991(reference only). The plan published there did not show all of the features mentioned in the text.

In 2001 Grossmann discussed some of the structure; full reference at (Grossmann 2001: reference only). He prepared detailed plans for publication with the aid of Darlene Brooks Hedstrom and in cooperation with the local Inspectorate (Grossmann et al., 2004, "The Excavation in the Monastery of Apa Shenute [Dayr Anba Shinuda] at Suhag," Dumbarton Oaks Papers 58: 371-382, text available).

Brooks Hedstrom subsequently directed excavation in this area: see Darlene Brooks Hedstrom. "Interim Field Report of Work at White Monastery Federation Project .
(text available: contains schematic plans of whole area, detailed plans of individual buildings: for whole area including plans of specific buildings, see "White Monastery Site"--link above.)

Currently the project is administered by Steven J. Davis. Gillian Pyke directs the excavations.

This detail of the image above shows some of the structures Not all the excavated areas are included.

A is the church.
B, at the southwest of the church has gone through several phases. In its first and possibly second phases it contained latrines (Grossmann 2004, 374-375.
C, two buildings immediately west of the church, see below.
D, a building thought to date to Shenute's building activities, and probably to have played an important part in the life of his community: see Building at D.




E is an area involving storage, distribution and industrial use of water. (On activities in this area, see see Grossmann 2004, 372) At right, a channel for pipes (north of building D. which is not visible) runs roughly north south up to pipes running east west. The Church is in the background at right. Structures in the center and left background are modern.
C. Immediately to the west of the church and aligned with it so probably part of the same building program is a peristyle hall Grossman thinks may have been a refectory (2004, 273-274). Beside it is a building that contains a room with four pillars (seen here) identified by Grossmann as possibly "one of the refectories of the monastery," and later in date than the church, perhaps as late as the eighth century ( 2004, 381) The wall in the foreground illustrates construction of fired and unfired bricks

Shenute's building program.

Shenute greatly increased the size of the monasteries under his authority and also presided over a considerable building program. Canon 7 of his writings provides information about this work. Caroline T. Schroeder has recently analysed the Canon''s information about "a substantial construction project (that) involvd multiple buildings" (Schroeder 2007, 91). Shenute speaks of "this great house,"which Schroeder takes to refer to the church, and of "these great houses" as well. For the church at least, he spent lavishly and hired a variety of professional workers rather than relying on monastic labor: Schroder 2007, Monastic Bodies: Discipline and Salvation in Shenoute of Atripe, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press. Ch. 3.


Monastic "outreach"

Shenute strove to create a community radically different from the world around it, and insisted that discordant monks be expelled. He did not, however. keep the world out of his monastery. In an emergency "the monastery served as a refugee camp for nearby residents displaced by raiders from the south. ...Life in the monastery revolved around care for the lay people--both Christian and non-Christians--who slept within the monastery's walls, even alongside the monks. Canon 7 lists the mount of food required to sustain the people and animals residing in the community, the number of doctors needed to care for the sick, and even the money used as ransom.....The reader is overwhelmed by a sense of a space filled with very nonascetic and undisciplined bodies..." (Schroeder 2007, 116-117).