Biblical Archaeology Review 44:1, January/February 2018

Strata: Restoration Unveils Coptic Monastery Frescoes

Restorers working in the Monastery of St. Bishoy in Egypt (Deir el-‘Anba Bishoy, in Arabic) have discovered previously unknown wall paintings. Concealed under a layer of modern mortar, these murals date from the 9th–13th centuries.

Located in Wadi el-Natrun (an oasis between Cairo and Alexandria that is home to a number of prominent Christian monuments), the monastery is among the earliest still operating in Egypt. It started as a simple hermitage of Bishoy, one of the fourth-century desert fathers known for their ascetic way of life and wisdom. The original hermitage has developed into a large monastery complex consisting of a fort, refectory, monastic cells, workshops, five churches, pilgrims’ facilities, and now also the tomb of Shenouda III, the late Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of all Africa.

Following the sweeping floods in 2015 that caused unprecedented damage across the region, the monastery has been undergoing extensive restoration under the auspices of the Ministry of Antiquities.

The reported frescoes (i.e., wall paintings done on wet plaster) were discovered in the main monastery church dedicated to St. Bishoy. They contain figures of saints and angels accompanied with inscriptions in Coptic, the ecclesiastical language of Egyptian Christians. Besides the murals, the restorers uncovered architectural elements, including an elevated platform for Scripture reading. These and other findings in the St. Bishoy Church expand our knowledge of Medieval Coptic iconography.

Join the BAS Library!

Already a library member? Log in here.

Institution user? Log in with your IP address.