What does Wadi El Natrun mean?
Wadi al-Natrun is a desert depression (about 23 meters below sea level) occupying about 60 km northwest of the Egyptian capital. Wadi el Natrun means “valley of nitrates,”
a name due to the presence of eight lakes containing this chemical substance. In Coptic, the region is also known as Shi-Hyt, translated as “scales of the heart” or “measure of hearts.”
The region of Wadi al-Natrun remained one of the regions of reference for the Christian religion, whose first settlements date back to the 3rd century AD. C. Over the centuries,
the area came to count hundreds of monasteries, whose inhabitants were primarily monks and hermits. The site enjoyed this importance until the seventh century
when the monasteries began to suffer looting and looting by nomads who came from the Libyan desert and later by the Arabs after the Muslim conquest of 641.
The legacy of the Christian period has left four Coptic Orthodox monasteries, the Monastery of St. Macarius of the Syrians, St. Bishoi, and the sanctuary of the Romans.
Wadi El Natrun’s History
Formerly the western desert was a part of Libya, and there were many battles between Libya and Ancient Egypt because the Libyans attacked the land of the west of the Egyptian Delta.
During the reign of Menas (founder of Dynasty I), the Libyans attacked Egypt from Wadi El Natrun, but the Egyptians were able to repel the attack. On the walls of the Temple of King Sahura
from the 5th Dynasty are scenes of a successful campaign against the Libyans. Also, King Amenemhat I (founder of the 12th Dynasty) sent a campaign led by his son King Sesostris I
and built a fortress in Wadi El Natrun which was used until Roman times, and his remains are found now. Additionally, it was mentioned that there were battles during the New Kingdom;
the reign of Amenhotep I (18th Dynasty), Merenptah (19th Dynasty), and Ramesses III (20th Dynasty), and a black granite half-stature dating back to the 17th Dynasty, a granite gate,
stones and cartouches of Amenemhat I (12th Dynasty) were discovered. The last mentioned battle was in 1170 BC. C. at the time of Ramses III (dynasty XX).
It was mentioned that these battles happened in Wadi El Natrun. After the birth of Christ, the religious importance of Wadi El Natrun increased as the Holy Family walked from Wadi El Natrun during their journey in Egypt. The area was home to pilgrims and monks during the early Coptic times, especially during the 4th and 5th centuries. Since then, Wadi el Natrun gained a reputation for its monks and the monastic life,
which was started in Wadi El Natrun by Saint Macarius the Great in AD 330. C. Then, many monasteries were built since there were almost 700 monasteries.
In the fifteenth century, there were seven monasteries, and currently, there are only four.
The Monuments of Wadi El Natrun
1- The Monastery of Saint Bishoi (Deir Amba Bishoi)
St Bishoi established two monasteries in Wadi Natrun (named after him) and Deir el-Sourian. Deir Anba Bishoi (every day, including Lents) is centered on a church that houses the saint’s remains,
which are supposed to be fully preserved in its sealed, tubelike container. Every year on July 17, the tube is carried around the church in procession.
According to the monks, the carriers feel the weight of a whole body. The church also has a cell where St. Bishoi tied his hair to the ceiling to prevent himself from dozing during prayers.
A fantastic indoor garden with a great vegetable patch, a massive new cathedral, and an intriguing fortified keep accessible by a drawbridge. This includes a well, kitchens, two churches,
and storerooms with enough food to last a year. Trap doors on the roof led to tiny cells that served as improvised graves for individuals who perished during the periodic sieges.
The rooftop is an excellent spot to see the desert sunset.
2- The Monastery of the Syrians (Deir El Suryani)
It is 500 meters from the Monastery of San Bishoi, between the Monastery of San Macario and the Monastery of the Romanos. The Monastery is dedicated to Virgin Mary.
It is considered the most miniature Monastery among the four monasteries of Wadi El Natrun, as it is one acre and 13 carats. The exact date of the Monastery’s construction is unknown,
but it is believed that it was built in the 6th century by serious monks. The Monastery is highlighted by the cell of Saint Bishoi. The Monastery has four churches, and like the other monasteries,
the Syrian Monastery houses a fort, a hospitality palace, the monks’ cells, and a table for food.
3- The Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great (Deir Abu Makar)
Deir Abu Makar (Makarios) (daily but only by previous agreement, closed during Lents) was built around the cell where St Makarios spent his final 20 years, around 20 kilometers southeast of Deir Anba Bishoi.
It suffered more structurally than other monasteries at the hands of the Bedouin. Yet, it is noteworthy because most Coptic popes have been chosen among its monks throughout the ages.
Many of those popes are buried there, as are the bones of the 49 Martyrs, a group of monks slaughtered by Bedouin in 444.
4-The Monastery of the Romanos (Deir Baramon)
It is known as the Monastery of the Virgin of Wadi El Natrun. San Marcarios chose the place of this Monastery to build his cell, and over time the monks made their cells around the main church
for the fame of San Macario. After 20 years, when the Monastery of the Romanos was completed, San Macario left and chose another place for his cell. Currently, the Monastery houses five churches;
the main one is the Church of the Virgin Mary which dates back to the 6th century. The Monastery also has unique ancient icons. The Monastery’s library contains thousands of books,
both manuscript and print, and in several languages, including Arabic, Coptic, Greek, Abyssinian, Hebrew, English, French, and Turkish.
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