Wednesday, March 17, 2021

World’s oldest known monastery discovered in Egypt

(Basilica) - A Franco-Norwegian team led by Romanian archaeologist Victor Ghica discovered in Egypt the oldest archaeologically attested monastic site in the world. The site is 370 kilometers sud-west of Cairo and it dates back to the 4th century.

The discovery made at Tall Ğanūb Qaṣr al-‘Ağūz, in the al-Bahariya oasis, certifies that Christian monasticism was born in the Egyptian Desert, as the Tradition of the Church has always taught.

The archaeologists discovered “six sectors constructed predominantly of basalt blocks and mud” and “a number of buildings which are dug partially, or completely, in the bed-rock,” including “clusters of living spaces for monks.”

Four of the six buildings complexes that compose the site were found in an exceptional state of preservation, with all the walls intact.

The walls of four of the rooms, including the walls of one of the churches, are completely covered with religious texts written in Greek, including a passage from Evagrius and another one from Ephrem the Syrian’s Sermo asceticus.

Romanian Victor Ghica, who coordinated the project, declared that “the dig reveals a new face of the beginnings of organised Egyptian monasticism” and it brings new information on “the nature of monastic life in the region”.

Based on stratigraphy, radiocarbon analysis, ceramic and glass assemblages and two coins, the foundation date of the sector can be situated in the mid-fourth, or even in the first half of the fourth century, making it the oldest preserved Christian monastic site that has been dated with certainty.

According to the Romanian, the recently discovered site adds to the “19 structures and a church carved into the bedrock” discovered in 2020 in this region inhabited by the first Christian monks between the 4th and the 8th century.

Victor Ghica is a professor at the MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion and Society din Oslo and a graduate of Bucharest University. He specializes, among other, in Late antique archaeology, Coptic and Ancient North Arabian Epigraphy, and in Copto-Arabic and Syriac literature.

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