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Christianity and Monasticism in Aswan and Nubia$

Gawdat Gabra and Hany Takla

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9789774165610

Published to Cairo Scholarship Online: September 2014

DOI: 10.5743/cairo/9789774165610.001.0001

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Monastic Life in Makuria

Monastic Life in Makuria

(p.157) 14 Monastic Life in Makuria
Christianity and Monasticism in Aswan and Nubia

Włodzimierz Godlewski

American University in Cairo Press

Abstract and Keywords

The Kingdom of Makuria comprised the river valley and adjoining territories between Aswan in the north and the Fifth Cataract on the Nile in the south. In the second half of the seventh century, the kingdom of Makuria was already a fully established state with an efficient administration and well-trained army, and with morale running high, fed effectively by the fettered Arab expansion. Makurian policy toward Constantinople in the early years of the second half of the sixth century had already laid the foundations for the organization of the Makurian church, presumably with a metropolitan in Dongola. There is no doubt that the Christianization of Makuria was inspired by the royal court.

Keywords:   Monastic life, Makuria, Nubia, Aswan, Coptic, Wlodzimierz Godlewski

AFTER THE INCORPORATION of Noubadia at the end of the sixth century and the conclusion in 652 of a treaty (Baqt) at Dongola between Qalidurut, the king of Makuria, and Abdullahi abu Sarh, the governor of Egypt, the kingdom of Makuria comprised the river valley and adjoining territories between Aswan in the north and the Fifth Cataract on the Nile in the south. In the second half of the seventh century, the kingdom of Makuria was already a fully established state with an efficient administration and well-trained army, and with morale running high, fed effectively by the fettered Arab expansion. The peace treaty with the Arab governor of Egypt (caliphate) determined the common border in the region of Aswan for what turned out to be 520 years and guaranteed free trade between the neighboring countries.

Makurian policy toward Constantinople in the early years of the second half of the sixth century had already laid the foundations for the organization of the Makurian church, presumably with a metropolitan in Dongola. There is no doubt that the Christianization of Makuria was inspired by the royal court, but the course it took, as well as its social acceptance, escapes us because of insufficient sources.

The monasteries in Makuria presumably appeared in already organized form as part of the developing church administration. The anchorites’ role in spreading Christianity in Nubia, raised in earlier studies, is poorly (p.158)

Monastic Life in Makuria

Fig. 14.1. Apa Amone. Cathedral of Paulos, Pachoras (Faras) (Archive PCMA)

documented and unlikely. For the eremite movement to develop, it needs to be socially accepted and economically sustained, two factors hardly to be expected in Nubia before official Christianization. But on the walls of Pachoras (Faras) Cathedral have been preserved representations of the holy anchorites: Apa Amone (Michałowski 1974a: 113–16), Abba Onophrius (Michałowski 1967: 152–53, pl.74–75), and Abba Aaron (Michałowski 1974a: 154–56; Łukaszewicz 1982) (fig. 14.1). While the sources are still insufficient, it seems likely that monasticism in Makuria, and also in the kingdom of Noubadia in the sixth century, appeared in an already developed institutional form. Consequently, Makuria may be an interesting area for recognizing relatively early monastic complexes of the sixth to seventh centuries.

Archaeological findings have proved highly controversial, with the discoverers being overly eager to interpret as monasteries any larger structures or even single rooms with fragmentarily preserved inscriptions and wall paintings on the plastered walls. The list of suggested monasteries from the area of Makuria, and its northern province of Noubadia in particular, is relatively long in consequence, but almost entirely wrong or at least not very likely in the best of cases. W.Y. Adams was the first to bring attention to this point, recognizing as satisfactorily documented only the monastic complexes at Ghazali, Qasr al-Wizz, and al-Rahmal (Adams 1977: 478).

Newer studies by P. Jeute (1994) and J. Anderson (1999) also take into account the recent discoveries at Dongola—the monasteries on Kom D and Kom H—and at Hambukol. The monastery on Kom H, presumably the (p.159) biggest in Dongola, has been identified by S. Jakobielski as the Monastery of the Holy Trinity (Jakobielski 2008). It was probably actually dedicated to Antony the Great as suggested by the funerary stela of the archbishop Georgios, who was earlier an archimandrite of this monastery. But the publisher of the text, A. Łajtar, emphasizes that it is not quite without doubt and one cannot say with all certainty that Georgios was the archimandrite of the monastery at Dongola (Łajtar 2002). The complexes on Kom D in Dongola and at Hambukol can quite likely be interpreted as monastic foundations, but the first is much destroyed, while the second still requires considerable effort to uncover it completely and interpret the findings.

The monasteries from Makuria are also present in the written sources, most fully in descriptions of churches and monasteries penned by the Coptic monk Abu al-Makarim (Vantini 1975: 324–25, 331), but also sporadically in the records of Arab historians and geographers describing Nubia. The information provided, however, is insufficient for an attempt to localize these establishments within Makuria. In the Greek and Coptic texts from sites in Makurian territories, monasteries are mentioned only intermittently: Monastery of Maria in Timaeie (Łajtar and Twardecki 2003: 303–309), monastery at Maurage (Jakobielski 1972: 76–78), monastery at Pouko (Kubińska 1974: 38–40; Łajtar and Pluskota 2001: 336–40), Monastery of Antony the Great (Łajtar 2002; Jakobielski 2008: 288–89), Monastery (?) of the Holy Trinity (Łajtar and Pluskota 2001: 340–54; Jakobielski 2008: 288–89).

All the existing evidence from Makuria is quite uniform in character. These monasteries are big, institutionally organized monastic compounds situated in the vicinity of episcopal settlements, indeed in their close neighborhood, near rivers, sometimes on a rocky river bank, but always isolated from the settlements themselves. Few of the monasteries mentioned in the sources are situated in a wadi or oasis. The modest archaeological evidence, interpreted soundly, confirms the conclusions that can be drawn from the written records. The monastery at Ghazali was built in a wadi and the monasteries at Qasr al-Wizz and on Kom H in Dongola were near big administration centers, including the church administration.

No monastic complex has so far been justifiably identified inside a settlement. Suggestions with regard to some of the buildings at Pachoras and Debeira West do not show satisfactory architectural evidence for their interpretation as a monastery—lack of a church, lack of a refectory with household area, or lack of a complex of furnished cells (Godlewski 2006b: 43–44). (p.160)

Another suggestion that some of the settlements from the Late Period at Batn al-Hagar may have been monasteries is hardly convincing in the face of the absence of confirmation in the form of texts and funerary stelae of the monks.

The most fully investigated and interesting of the structures uncovered so far is the monastery connected with the episcopal seat at Pachoras. Once we skip the insufficiently documented monasteries, whose existence in the vicinity of the cathedral and in the area of the later pottery workshop and on the ruins of the Meroitic ‘Western Palace’ had been suggested by F. Ll. Griffith, K. Michałowski, and S. Jakobielski, we are left with the romantically named Qasr al-Wizz (Castle of the Geese), perhaps the best preserved at the time of discovery, a complex rising on a rocky river bank north of the town, connected to the nearby hermitage called the Grotto of the Anchorite. It is now under the water of Lake Nasser.

Pachoras: The Anchorite’s Grotto (fig. 14.2.1–4)

On 4 December AD 738, the monk Theophilos put the finishing touches to the decoration of his hermitage, as he himself records in a colophon: “I am who has [hath] written these writings on my dwelling-place” (Griffith 1927: 88; Jakobielski 1972: 66). At the beginning of this colophon he described his objectives: “Do the kindness to pray for me charitably, every one who shall dwell in this abode, that God may bring my [life to an] end pleasing to him, and that I may find compassion in the day of my visitation.”The Anchorite’s Grotto, as F.Ll. Griffith was pleased to call this spot in Pachoras (Faras) (1927: 81–91), which can only be described as a hermitage, is the only well-known monument from the territory of the kingdom of Makuria that is important in its own right, apart from its role in local monastic life, because of the still underestimated recension of the apophthegmata patrum preserved inside it.

At the exit of a wadi, in the northwestern bend of the high rocky gebel extending west of Pachoras, one of the bishoprics of Makuria and an important center of Makurian (Nubian) administration and culture, there were four rock-cut tombs dating to the New Kingdom period. The third counting from the south, which is the most spacious inside, was turned into a hermitage in the first half of the eighth century, and presumably inhabited by one of the monks from the nearby Qasr al-Wizz monastery, the most important one in all of Pachoras. F.Ll. Griffith described this interior in the following terms: (p.161)

Monastic Life in Makuria

Fig. 14.2. Pachoras. The hermitage of Theophilos; plan and walls with localization of the texts (W. Godlewski and S. Maślak after F. Ll. Griffith 1927)


The chamber is of somewhat irregular shape, measuring over four meters from back to front, over five meters along the front wall, and six meters along the back wall. The floor at the south end is twenty centimeters higher than the rest and there is a raised mastaba left in the rock at the northeast corner. At either end of the north wall there appears to have been an oblong niche cut in the rock about 1.2 meters from the ground. That at the west end has been destroyed, the wall surface being much ruined there; at the other end the niche is about thirty centimeters from the east wall and is well preserved. The front wall north of the entrance was very thin, and the upper part has been cut through and afterwards built up with stones and mud, doubling the thickness. The stones along the top of this have been broken out again, but it can be seen that there had been a niche at each end, and lower down in the center a third niche remains complete. … In the southwest corner bricks have been laid to form the walls apparently of a grave. To judge by the magic texts written about it, the anchorite may have made the grave his bed during his lifetime. The roof of the chamber is about two meters above the floor. … But the most interesting memorial that the hermit has left us is the series of Coptic texts which he painted upon the whitewashed walls in square compartments like the pages of a book greatly magnified. (Griffith 1927: 81–82)

The inscriptions were recorded and copied by Sir J.G. Wilkinson (1835), Canon Weston (1844–46), Professors Sayce and Mahaffy (1895), Dr. Gardiner (1907), and finally by Griffith himself, who is also the author of the fullest publication of 1927. Some of the magic texts had been identified earlier by W. Crum and Pietschmann (Griffith 1927: 82).

The room decoration, on the east wall around the prayer niche as well as on the remaining walls where only Coptic texts were recorded in a regular frame and elaborate composition, is uniform and resembles a codex. There can be little doubt that the idea as well as perhaps the execution, not to mention the funds, must have come from the monk Theophilos. The decoration of the bottom part of the eastern wall and the plaited crosses on either side of a central niche, as well as birds presumably drinking from a vessel in the upper part, are not entirely Nubian in both form and style, and may be described as strongly Coptic-related in character.

The Coptic texts, preserved and recorded only in part, form three distinct groups: the biggest includes twenty-two parables and instructions (p.163) of the Desert Fathers, obviously constituting a single redaction of the eighth century, a redaction that Theophilos had been in possession of also in codex form, supplemented with the Nicene creed, which he had put on the western wall, north of the entrance to the bedroom. Ending everything is the monk’s colophon, which separates the parables from the magical texts that occupy the southwestern corner above the tomb. All the texts that were written here—the incipits of the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the letter of Christ to Abgar, King of Edessa; the list of names of the forty martyrs of Sebaste; the names of the nails of Christ; and a list of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus—follow the texts from the Coptic Book of Ritual Power from the collection in Leiden. Some of them are also recorded in other tombs at Qasr Ibrim, and most fully at Dongola, but the redaction from the hermitage in Pachoras is the earliest in Nubia so far.

It is noteworthy that the saintly monk Theophilos enjoyed the regard of the Makurites, as indicated by numerous graffiti left by pilgrims visiting his tomb and monk’s cell for the next few centuries, at least until the eleventh to twelfth centuries. Visitors included church dignitaries (bishops, priests) as well as secular ones, including King Stephanos. Only one graffito, that of the monk Dioscoros, is dated, to AD 933.

Theophilos himself had a strong inner conviction about his religious mission and, presumably because of this, his intention was to leave a monument that would have for the Makurites the same kind of importance as the cell of Nephytios of Paphos for the Byzantine community (twelfth–thirteenth century) (Cormack 1985: 215–51). Theophilos probably decorated his hermitage when he was already at an advanced age, since the texts connected with his tomb feature the same redaction as the texts of the instructions of the Desert Fathers and were probably made at the same time.

It seems the saintly monk did not spend all his time in the cell. There is no domestic equipment in the hermitage, no kitchen or storage place for beverages and food articles. Hence, it may be assumed that Theophilos had spent a large part of his monastic life in the monastery, which was presumably not too far away from his hermitage, and that he depended on this monastery for his livelihood as a hermit. The closest monastery is the Qasr al-Wizz complex, rising on a rocky outcrop of the Nile river bank, closing from the north a plateau on which the city of Pachoras stood with its wellknown Cathedral of Paul, erected around AD 707. (p.164)

Monastic Life in Makuria

Fig. 14.3. Qasr al-Wizz. Plan of the early monastery (W. Godlewski and S. Maślak after G. Scanlon 1970 and 1972)

Pachoras: Qasr al-Wizz (fig. 14.3)

This site was fully cleared and recorded in 1965 by the Nubian Expedition of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, directed by George T. Scanlon. A preliminary report of the excavations was published in two parts (Scanlon 1970; 1972). G.T. Scanlon had no doubt that the monastery he had uncovered at Qasr al-Wizz was connected with the bishopric at Pachoras.

Scanlon, who was aware of the discoveries made at Faras (Pachoras), where Michałowski believed the early monasteries were situated immediately next to the cathedral, assumed in his interpretation that the Qasr al-Wizz monastery must have functioned at a later date; this is presumably why he considered the already developed (enlarged) church on Qasr al-Wizz as part of a monastic complex and dated the establishment of the monastery to the second half of the ninth century or even the tenth century. Today, the residential structures north of the Cathedral of Paulos are no longer considered monastic. Indeed, even the so-called North Monastery, with a church on the upper floor, was a residence more than anything else. Thus, we cannot—and this has rather become a rule— identify any building within the Pachoras town complex, whether from (p.165) F.Ll. Griffith’s or K. Michałowski’s excavations, that could have been a monastic establishment.

The location of the church on a high outcrop over the River Nile, far from the settlements, fairly excludes its role as a parish church. Scanlon makes no attempt to explain the function of the early church at Qasr al-Wizz, leaving it as an isolated structure, but because of its undoubtedly early date—he dates it to AD 550–750—he does not link it with the foundation of a monastery.

The Qasr al-Wizz church was a medium-sized three-aisle basilica with narthex and a tripartite eastern end, including an apse with three niches connected with the side rooms and opening toward the nave through a triumphal arch. The architectural decoration found inside it, including the capitals from the arch, the lintels, and the tympana, especially the tympanum with fish from above the entrance to the baptistery, link the monastery church very closely to the Cathedral of Aetios in Pachoras, the latter dated to the 630s (Godlewski 2006b: 33–41). The eastern end of the basilica at Qasr al-Wizz is set firmly in the architectural tradition of Pachoras and the neighborhood. A similar design may be noted in the North and South Churches at Adindan, Debeira West, that is, in the early foundations that are dated to the turn of the sixth century at the latest (Godlewski 1992: 282–84). The plan of the monastic basilica, the absence of a synthronon in the apse, and the architectural decoration assigns the building a date in the early seventh century, the time of the erection of the Cathedral of Aetios at Pachoras at the latest (circa AD 630).

There is little reason for the establishment of a church in such an isolated spot. The archaeological assemblage that comes from the excavations here, including both oil lamps from Aswan and locally produced ones, pottery, and metal objects, all indicate the existence of an early settlement in the area around the church. Scanlon mentions early ceramics found in many rooms of the currently excavated monastic complex. Thus, there are no justifiable counter-indications for considering the early basilica at Qasr al-Wizz as a monastery church right from the start and for connecting it with the establishment of the monastic compound as a whole in the first half of the seventh century. This is the date for the church itself, well before the Sassanids’ raid on Egypt and their eventual expedition against Noubadia. Apart from the church, the monastic complex comprised a compact storied residential block with a central corridor and two rows of side cells, a refectory, and a household area (p.166) situated in the immediate vicinity of the refectory and courtyard south of the church. The entire complex, considered by Scanlon as a homogeneous foundation of the ninth/tenth century, may be linked with the early church and dated to the seventh century.

The Qasr al-Wizz monastery is undoubtedly a homogeneous and harmoniously planned complex. In its principal part it clearly follows a functionally developed plan that had already been established in earlier times. Its closest analogy is the Dayr Anba Hadra (Monastery of St. Hatre) complex in Aswan, which is dated to the tenth century (Grossmann 2002: 363–65). The difference in the communication between the church and the residential block and refectory in Aswan is largely due to the monastic architecture being adapted to suit the topography of the two rock-cut terraces on which its stands. There are no parallels among the known early monasteries from Egypt. These monasteries had developed over long periods of time and their architecture reflects enormous complexity and little clarity in their urban arrangement (Wipszycka 2009). Thus, the monastery of Pachoras at Qasr al-Wizz, which dates most probably to the seventh century, is very important for a fuller understanding of the development of monastic architecture in the Valley of the Nile in early medieval times.

The monastery complex (original: 30.5 × 28.5 m; enlarged: 54.5 × 28.5 m) is composed of several units:

  1. 1. The western entry block:two rooms—west and east, with entrance to the corridor north–south.

  2. 2. The cell block: a long, vaulted corridor (12.5 × 2.8 m) 3.6 m high, with entrances to four vaulted cells on the west and three on the east, and a door into the refectory at the north end. At the south end there was an arched recess (about 0.5 m deep) with the shaft going to the upper story; on its east side there is a light-and-air shaft. Three arched niches are between the doorways in the east wall, which held lamps. The cells were irregular in dimensions and planning, but contained vaulting—inside a small raised platform which went around the cell—and a series of arched niches in the walls.

  3. 3. Stairway: entered from the vestibule to the second-floor corridor and cells, most probably eight in number.

  4. 4. Vestibule E with a dome, accessed from the courtyard.

  5. 5. The refectory: an asymmetrically quadrangular room (5.75 × 7.25 m) with a central pillar (1.1 × 0.75 m) and two pilasters on the (p.167) north and south walls. The room was covered by four domes, and had four windows: two in the north wall and two in the west wall. On the pavement there were four circular mud-brick benches (height about 43 cm, width about 35 cm) 1.5–1.8 m in diameter—so five or six monks could be accommodated on each one. Two entrances, one from the cell block and one from the kitchen.

  6. 6. The service area: to the east of the refectory there was a corridor with two rooms on its north side with entrances from it, giving entry to the south to an open area with two ovens (1.2–1.5 m deep) on a raised platform and the latrine (2.9 × 3.1 m) in the southeast corner of the monastery.

  7. 7. A courtyard with the cellar, hewn into the gebel (2.0 × 5.0 m; height 2.0–1.5 m).

  8. 8. The building attached to the northern wall of the church, most probably administrative in function.

Monastery of St. Antony the Great (Kom H) in Dongola

The monastery on Kom H, known also as the Monastery of the Holy Trinity, stood at the western edge of the city’s burial grounds, about 1.5 kilometers northeast of the Citadel. It was established by one of the first bishops of Dongola, most likely as early as the beginning of the seventh century. The dedication to St. Antony the Great is recorded on the stela of Archbishop Georgios, while the dedication to the Holy Trinity is evidenced in numerous epigraphic materials from monastic contexts (Jakobielski 2008), but referring rather to a church, very likely a cathedral. The well-researched monastery at Pachoras (Qasr al-Wizz), believed to be founded by Bishop Aetios, is a close parallel to the monastic complex at Dongola and the theory cannot be excluded that it was actually patterned on it, just as the Cathedral of Aetios shares many features with the first Cathedral in Dongola.

The Monastery of St. Antony the Great in Dongola consisted of a church—a three-aisled, domed basilica, a building situated north of the church, and a complex of cells in the northwestern part of the monastery, all surrounded by an enclosure wall. The economic base of the monastery was concentrated in the northwestern part of the complex.

The monastery church (fig. 14.4), which has been explored completely, proved to be a three-aisled domed basilica of rather long proportions, the central tower with a wooden dome in the nave resting on four stone pillars It seems to have been founded in the second half of the sixth century.1 The (p.168)

Monastic Life in Makuria

Fig. 14.4. Dongola. Kom H. Monastic Church (S. Maślak, archive PCMA)

apse with synthronon and flanking pastophories at the east end and the tripartite western end with a staircase in the southwestern corner, combined with two entrances into the naos, from the north and from the south, were typical of sacral complexes that first became popular in the capital from the second half of the sixth century. The sanctuary occupied the eastern end of the nave, where it was screened off from the rest of the church. The eastern part of the church, behind the apse, was turned into a burial place, similar to the monastery church at Qasr al-Wizz. Graves were also noted in the sanctuary itself, including the tomb of Joseph, bishop of Syene, who died in AD 668. Further research is still needed to permit fuller interpretation of the church and the graves.

To the western wall of the church, at its south corner, was attached structure S, composed originally of two rooms, S.1–2, connected to each other by one entrance at the south wall of S.2 (fig. 14.5). Some later constructions are also clear, especially in the western part of room S.3. Inside room S.2b there was a bench, and inside room S.1 an altar inside the eastern niche. In the pavement of S.1 was cut the tomb of a man. The walls of all the rooms of the structure were covered with paintings, over sixty graffiti, and forty-three drawings or scratched designs. It was most likely (p.169)

Monastic Life in Makuria

Fig. 14.5. Dongola. Kom H. Building S, cell and chapel of Anna By (archive PCMA)

the dwelling place of a holy man, probably Anna By, connected to a small oratory, inside which at the end of his life he was buried; his cell was later frequently visited, as signatures indicate (Jakobielski 1993: 306–307, 318, 326, 328–33). It became a commemorative chapel dedicated to Anna By (fig. 14.6), one of the Makurian saints.

The monastery also had an extensive complex of buildings in the northwestern part of the complex, the so-called Northwest Annex, which was already outside the walls and which presumably served the needs of pilgrims and, from the eleventh century, also the bishops of Dongola. (p.170)

Monastic Life in Makuria

Fig. 14.6. Dongola. Kom H. Building S, graffiti (W. Godlewski, archive PCMA)

Excavated completely, it has been provisionally published. It consisted of a set of rooms of a sacral and administrative nature, repeatedly enlarged, combined with a mausoleum of Dongolan bishops incorporated in the northern part. Its interpretation as a xenodochion (a guesthouse for visitors), proposed by B. Żurawski (1999) and supported by S. Jakobielski (2001: 160), needs to be justified more fully in research, but even now it raises serious doubts. Without prejudging any final conclusions on this question, I would like to point out that in connection with the burial place of Archbishop Georgios (d. 1113) and the bishops of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries interred in crypts T.26–T.28, the commemorative function of the northern part of the Northwest Annex appears to be much more evident.

Mausoleum of Bishops (fig. 14.7)

The Northwest Annex of the monastery on Kom H, which is a very complicated structure that underwent repeated rebuilding and enlargement (Jakobielski 2001), incorporates a set of chambers that can be identified as a bishops’ mausoleum (Godlewski 2006a). This part, which occupies the northwestern end of the Annex and demonstrates an evident liturgical function, was connected to three funerary crypts (nos. T.26–T.28) containing communal burials. The complex was created by adapting existing architecture (rooms 4, 5, and 7) and adding new units (nos. 1, 2, and 3). From a functional point of view, it was definitely a single complex, but it appears to have been built in two stages at the very least. The chronology of architectural development need not be discussed here in detail, for it does not change the interpretation at all, having bearing only on the dating of particular chambers. The three crypts can be presumed to have been in use simultaneously from at least 1113, the year that Archbishop Georgios died and was interred in the crypt prepared for him (T.28), through the second half of the fourteenth century. The number of burials indicates that the crypts remained in use for about 250 to three hundred years. Some later burials were made in other places or according to the wishes of the individual. Access to all the burial chambers remained easy throughout this time. (p.171)

Monastic Life in Makuria

Fig. 14.7. Dongola. Kom H. The chapel over bishops’ tombs (W. Godlewski, archive PCMA)

Texts in Greek and Coptic were recorded on the walls of crypt T.28; the long-lived Georgios, archbishop of Dongola, may have also been responsible for their redaction as they are highly unique. They were studied by Adam Łajtar and Jacques van der Vliet in 2010, and the publication is in preparation.

On the western wall, above the entrance to the crypt, the following texts are to be found: introductory invocation (colophon ?) in the form of a short two-line Greek text; the beginning and end of the Gospel of St. Matthew (1:1–2; 28:20); a text in a magical alphabet; twenty-four nomina sacra in numerical cryptograms; list of names.

On the northern wall: Gospel of St. Mark; Oracio Mariae ad Bartos; list of names; palindrome: sator-areto-tenet-opera-rotas.

On the eastern wall: Gospel of St. Luke; Transitus Mariae in Coptic.

On the southern wall: Gospel of St. John; Dormition of the Virgin (Euodius of Rome) in Coptic; palindrome.

Chambers 1 and 3 were used undoubtedly as a mausoleum with crypts T.26 and T.27. The eastern of the two rooms (no. 3) acted as a sanctuary with an altar set against the east wall. Room 1 to the west was a kind of naos, separated from the sanctuary by an altar screen, a kind of templum, built of brick. (p.172) The arched entrance to the sanctuary had relief pilasters in the reveals and a crowning tympanum (Jakobielski and Scholz 2001: pl. XXIII.1–2). An ambo erected of sandstone blocks stood under an arcade to the right of the altar screen. The openings of the funerary shafts leading to the crypts were located inside the naos, in front of the altar screen. The right side of the screen bears the impression of a funerary stela that was removed at some point.

Chambers 2 and 5 constituted a mausoleum connected with crypt T.28. The eastern of the two rooms (no. 5) contained an altar, set up in the blocked passage to a neighboring room. The eastern end of chamber 2 was set apart by an altar screen that had a centrally positioned door with decoration in the form of pilasters and a partly preserved tympanum (Jakobielski and Scholz 2001: pl. XX). The ambo was placed on the left, just beyond the entrance to the sanctuary. Next to it, immured in the east wall, was the funerary stela of Archbishop Georgios.

The only entrance to both commemorative chapels was in the south wall of chamber 2, which acted as a naos.

The two sanctuaries (rooms 3 and 5) communicated through chamber 4 with the prothesis furnished with an altar in room 7. Above the altar there was a mural depicting Christ with a chalice and next to the representation the text, in Greek, of five prayers said during the presanctified liturgy (Łajtar 1995).

The key issue is determining the status of the persons interred in the three crypts. In the case of T.28, there is no doubt that it was prepared for Georgios and that the texts of ‘Great Power’ inscribed on its walls may have been his personal choice. Georgios was a man of exceptional status in the church of Makuria, but presumably also at the royal court, as suggested by the epithets on his funerary stela (Łajtar 2002). In view of his social position, it is less than likely that the other men interred with him in the crypt were not, like him, bishops or archbishops. Crypts T.26 and T.27, which would have to be earlier considering the structural logic of the complex, may have been used as burials for bishops as well. The founder of the crypts and the entire architectural framing for these tombs was likely to have been commemorated in the lost funerary stela that was once immured in the altar screen. It could have been the first archbishop of Makuria, Victor, who is evidenced in the middle of the eleventh century. Just as easily it could have been any other bishop of Dongola in the eleventh century. A similar mausoleum, interring in a single crypt a number of bishops from the eleventh and twelfth centuries, was preserved next to the Cathedral of Petros in Pachoras. There, however, the funerary stelae of all the interred bishops were immured into the wall (p.173) above the entrance to the crypt, while the three commemorative chapels were definitely more modest in appearance. At Pachoras (Godlewski 2006b: 141–44), as well as at Dongola (Żurawski 1999), tomb equipment included oil lamps, qullae, and amphorae. This new form of tomb furnishing appears to concern bishops foremost, as confirmed by the bishops’ tombs of the eleventh to fourteenth centuries, located east of the cathedral in Pachoras.


The monastery in Ghazali was built on the rock in Wadi Abu Dom, some sixteen kilometers from where it joins the Nile. The massive wall, in a good state of preservation, some four meters high, enclosed the whole complex and was constructed with large blocks of local schist. The main entrance to the monastery was on the north side, facing the wadi. It was elaborately constructed with an in-turn of the wall on both sides of the gateway and was spanned by an arch built of dressed sandstone blocks. The other four gateways were of simpler construction. One of them leads to the nearest monastic cemetery. The monastery consists of a church, a group of stone-built buildings, and a number of badly preserved mud-brick constructions (Shinnie and Chittick 1961).

The church was built of small blocks of dressed sandstone to the height of about 3.0 meters and red brick in the upper parts of the walls, on the Makurian plan of an elongated three-aisled basilica with a small central dome. The naos was divided by two rows of pillars after the rebuilding of the church, but originally by granite columns. The interior was paved with sandstone slabs. The apse was filled with a synthronon and at the eastern part of the nave there was the sanctuary with an altar and screen.

The monastic buildings are located to the west and northwest side of the church. All of them are constructed of rough slabs and blocks of schist, with vaults built of dry mud bricks. The function of the buildings is not known for sure; because of the limited scale of the excavations, they were never finished. The building to the west of the church could be the dormitory. On the north side of it there is a square room with a central pillar, equipped with circular benches. It was recognized as the refectory.

Two well-constructed buildings on both sides of the main entrance were most probably used by visitors to the monastery.



(1) In the 2011 season of the works at Dongola the new investigations of the monastic church clarified its original plan and date of its foundation.