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Christianity and Monasticism in Middle Egypt$
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Gawdat Gabra and Hany Takla

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9789774166631

Published to Cairo Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.5743/cairo/9789774166631.001.0001

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“Twenty Thousand Nuns”: The Domestic Virgins of Oxyrhynchos

“Twenty Thousand Nuns”: The Domestic Virgins of Oxyrhynchos

(p.57) 6 “Twenty Thousand Nuns”: The Domestic Virgins of Oxyrhynchos
Christianity and Monasticism in Middle Egypt

AnneMarie Luijendijk

American University in Cairo Press

This chapter examines papyrological evidence and literary sources for female ascetics at Oxyrhynchos from the fourth and fifth centuries. It sheds light on the socioeconomic milieu and lifestyle of those ascetic women known as “domestic virgins.” These women practiced a form of monasticism known also from literary sources. They lived not in a nunnery, but at home, either with their family, alone, or in a small group, and renounced marriage. They abstained from leisure, including food and wine. A mid-to late-fourth-century text, the Gnomes of the Council of Nicaea, stipulates the behavior and daily activities of such domestic virgins: they should dress modestly and spend their days fasting and studying. Another fourth-century text, the Canons of Pseudo-Athanasius (in Arabic translation), exhorts every family to set aside one of their daughters for this lifestyle, upon whose asceticism the salvation of the entire household depends.

Keywords:   female ascetics, Oxyrhynchos, ascetic women, monasticism

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