Minnesota in Egypt

The White Monastery
or, in Arabic,
al-Dayr al-Abyad
so called because of the pale limestone walls of its church. It is more formally known as

Dayr Amba Shinuda i

.The Monastery of St. Shenute

return to site map or introductory page.

or neighborhood of the Red and White monasteries.

This page introduces A. the White Monastery church, B. the surrounding Monastery and
C. the Monastic Federation.

A. Shenute's Church (go on to church layout, interior, apse paintings, more details

Near the modern city of Sohag stand the monumental limestone walls of a
fifth century church.

Despite major reshaping, much remains of the remarkable church
St. Shenute built.

This site and the neighboring Red Monastery
have now been placed on the
World Monument Watch's list
of the 1000 most endangered sites: see http://www.wmf.org/project/white-and-red-monasteries

Updated in 2011, this web site lists the projects underway at that time



photograph Elizabeth Bolman 2001

This photograph shows the nave and aisles of the original church. They now form an open air space leading down to the door of the present church, which occupies the east end of Shenute's church.

B.The Monastery: links to specific buildings under B1 below

The church is the only early structure still standing at the monastery, and has given its name to the whole. To house so many monks and numerous visitors, extensive surrounding structures must have been needed .(Shenute spoke of "these great houses" he built: Schroder 2007

The original boundaries are unknown--part of what we hope archaeology can discover.

At the end of the last century limited excavation occurred. (Full bibliographical references at following links Dayr Anba Shinudah 1991Mahmoud Ali Mohamed and Grossmann 1991: Grossmann 2001, 290, 293) .

According to a Life of Shenute, his monastery grew to over 2000 male and nearly 2000 female monastics.the numbers may be exaggerated, but this was certainly a large, powerful organization.

Clearly, such numbers required many buildings and agricultural resources, which the SCA began to explore at the end of the last century, joined in this century by the work now centered at Yale University's Egyptological Institute: the
Yale Monastic Archaeology Project (YMAP)

This photograph shows some of the mud brick structures uncovered by those early efforts (2001 picture).

(The modern wall and its gatehouse can be seen in tne background.)

B1. Additional structures, old and new, lost and found (Library, Funerary Chapel, et al.)

1. One of the glories of the White Monastery was its Library. Neither building nor contents now remain at the monastery. We may never know where the library was or what it looked lile, but much work has been done to identify its contents.

2. A recent discovery is the existence of a Funerary Chapel, probably the memorial of Shenute .

3. Excavation has also uncovered remains of water supply and of a kiln. One building near the church has been identified by Grossman as a refectory (common dining room) and another as either a dormitory or a place for storing and dispensing food.

Today, the monastery is again a center of pilgrimage, and new construction is going on: see the entryway on the right.

The survey work and excavation proceed in cooperation with the monastic community, to preserve their heritage and create a broad spectrum of remains available to pilgrims and other visitors.

The challenges and opportunities of doing archaeological research in the heart of a living monastery are mentioned concretely
in Karel Innemee 2009
"Mural Painting in Egypt: Problems of Dating and Conservation," 9-10
and more broadly in 2012
by the Director
of ARCE.

The modern gatehouse.

A gate was an important part of the original monastery, its functions stressed in Layton's 2007 article. p. 4 and passim; also Maguire 2009, "Dressed for Eternity," pp. 41-42.

C. Monastic Federation

Recently, scholars have spoken of a "monastic federation" under Shenute. They mention three parts:

  • 1. The center dominated by the church mentioned above,
  • 2. a second nexus related to the Red Monastery church in the north, and
  • 3. a women's monastery probably at Atripe to the south.

    See the map published by the Yale University Egyptological Institute-scroll down page)

  • woman's monastery

    The textual evidence for the relationship between Shenute and the women's monastery was first thoroughly explored by Rebecca Krawiec in her 2002 book, published online 2003 (see review), also discussed in her unpublished paper for the 2003 Symposium (see abstract) and in a 2008 article.

    second nexus ?

    Documentary evidence for the relationship between the center and other components has not yet been fully identified or analysed.

    At the Red Monastery, recent investigation has focused on the church.
    Minor excvation has occurred in the enclosure outside it.