Khurus. A khurus (Greek, choros) is a room reserved for the clergy between the presbytery, or sanctuary, and the naos. It developed in the medieval Egyptian church in the late seventh and early eighth centuries. Its front (western) wall, which sets it off from the laity, fulfills a function similar to that of the templon (a type of cancelli) in Byzantine architecture. Both structures serve primarily to hide the liturgical actions carried out in the sanctuary from the view of the believers. Unlike the Byzantine templon, however, the khurus is built as a massive wall reaching to the ceiling.
The khurus presumably derived from a row of columns, unconnected to the ceiling, that was set up in front of the opening of the apse and whose purpose was purely aesthetic, to enrich the
appearance of apsidal openings that in some churches appeared somewhat small. Among the earliest examples are the sanctuaries of the two monastic churches at Dayr Anba Shinudah and Dayr Anba Bishoi (both fifth century) and the church in front of the pylon of the Luxor temple.
An intermediate link that illustrates the development of the khurus is the small basilica, unfortunately not yet exactly dated, in front of the eastern gate of the temple of Madinat Habu. Here the
columns placed in front of the apse have become a closed wall structure with only one opening in the middle. In this building, however, the presbytery clearly still extends beyond that wall into
the nave, and consequently, at this stage there is no question of a change in use.
The khurus also developed in Nubian churches. The wall block in front of the apse, containing an aperture in the middle, is in several instances adorned with two columns as at Adindan and
Faras. There was no tradition for the khurus in Nubia, however, and it was eventually rejected.
As the khurus developed, the wall block, which previously stood unconnected, was replaced by a full dividing wall with separate entrances to the three rooms of the sanctuary. The khurus itself,
beyond this wall, first consisted only of a simple cross corridor as at Upper Ansina and MANQABAD. The depth of an actual room seems to have been acquired in the eighth century. From this time
the possibility presented itself of merging the now broadly designed khurus and the apse, which lay mostly open in its entire western breadth, into the greater shape of a triconch (a room with a
semicircular extension on three sides, see below). This possibility was frequently exploited, particularly with older buildings, where the khurus had been built in later.
The way of access to the khurus is not uniform. In the al-‘Adhra’ church of DAYR AL-SURYAN, Wadi al-Natrun, the khurus has a single, broad opening in the middle. The two churches of Dayr Anba
Hadra and DAYR AL-SHAYKHAH in Aswan possess, in addition to the middle aperture, a passage on the right-hand side, whereas a number of other edifices have a khurus built with three openings.
The khurus as an integrated component of the Egyptian church can be traced well into the Mamluk period (thirteenth to early sixteenth century). When, as a result of the increased frequency of
masses during this period, it became customary to supply the churches with multiple altar rooms, the available side chambers of the apse of older churches were converted into additional altar
rooms. At that time there was no reason to add a khurus, so the practice was eventually abolished. In its stead, an iconostasis of bricks or wood was built immediately in front of the entrance to the
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