DAYR AL-MAJMA‘. [This entry consists of two parts: History, and Architecture. The first deals with written accounts concerning the dayr, and the second discusses what remains of the four churches that were in the confines of the monastery.]
This monastery, now also called Dayr Mar Jirjis, is situated to the west of the village called al-Bahri Qamulah, southwest of NAQADAH, at the foot of the Libyan massif on the edge of the desert named Jabal al-Asas, between DAYR ABU LIFAH to the north and Dayr Mar Buqtur to the south. The term al-majma‘ was understood in the sense of synod by C. SICARD (1982, Vol. 2, pp. 66, 227), but Winlock and Crum (1926, p. 115) remarked that it is the Arabic equivalent of the Greek koinobion, and underlined the fact that in the Sahidic Life of Pisentius the Monastery of Tsenti (in Arabic, al-Asas), which was his episkopeion (episcopal dwelling) and where his laid before being buried "in the mountain," bears this name (Budge, 1913, pp. 120, 126). Now DAYR ANBA PISENTIUS, where his tomb is still found today, is only a quarter mile (400 m) distant.
Yuh anna ibn Sa‘id ibn Yahya ibn Minya ibn al-Qulzumi, in his notice about the patriarch CYRIL II, mentioned in "a monastery to the west of Qus [the body] of Abba Pisentius and to the west of the monastery a spring of water" (HISTORY OF THE PATRIARCHS 1959, Vol. 2, pt. 3, pp. 228 [text], 362 [trans.]).
ABU SALIH THE ARMENIAN (fol. 81b; 1895, pp. 233-34) seems indeed to have referred to this monastery, although he placed it under the name of PISENTIUS, bishop of Qift (Coptos) at the beginning of the seventh century: "This monastery stands to the west
of Qus; and it contains the tomb of saint Pisentius. Outside the monastery and to the west of it, there is a well of water which was
visited by our Lady and the Lord Christ with the righteous old man Joseph." But the Evetts translation could be corrected thus: "There is the tomb of saint Pisentius outside [the monastery], and to the west of it. . . ."
In 1668, Fathers François and Protais spoke of the monastery "el-Migmir [Majma‘] where Bishop Abifentaous, who died with a reputation for sanctity, is buried" (Sauneron, 1969, p. 137), an easy confusion between Dayr al-Majma‘ and the nearby tomb of Saint Pisentius.
It is at this time that Abu Salih—or at least the single manuscript that has come down under his name—still placed the tomb of Saint
Pisentius in the Monastery of Saint Michael (Dayr al-Malak Mikha‘il) at Qamulah (fol. 104b; The Churches . . . , 1895, pp. 283- 84), which he also names Dayr al-‘Ayn, because of a famous well of water.
This is the largest of the monasteries of this region between Naqadah and Qamulah. It is described by S. CLARKE (1912, pp. 130-40) as having cells and four churches, of which the oldest, dedicated to Saint George, is laid out on a basilica plan and contains remains of paintings, with a maiestas Domini (majesty of the Lord) in the conch of the apse. Abu Salih indicated that the church is consecrated to the Virgin, and there is still a small church of the Virgin, although badly damaged, in the Dayr al-Majma‘.
[See also: Dayr Abu al-Lifah; Dayr Anba Pisentius; Dayr al- Malak Mikha'il (Qamulah); Pisentius (bishop of Qift).]
MAURICE MARTIN, S. J.
Of the four churches that were once part of this monastery in the early and high Middle Ages, only the Church of Saint John remains
standing as a ruin. The small al-‘Adhra’ Church (Church of the Virgin) is at present blocked up, and the two most important churches, those of Malak Mikha’il (Saint Michael) and Mar Jirjis (Saint George), were leveled to the ground in the 1920s and replaced by insignificant modern structures.
The Church of Mar Jirjis appears to be the oldest. The building is divided up very clearly. It had the form of a columned basilica with a series of sturdy transverse arches between which was erected a roof construction in the shape of a transverse barrel vault. Technically this kind of roof covering may be compared with the transverse system of arches used in churches in the Hauran (Butler,
1929, pp. 17-24, 178-79). The Church of Saint George in Dayr al- Majma‘ has been the only known example of this kind in Egypt, and its loss is therefore all the more regrettable. The sanctuary followed the normal plan, with an apse in the center and two rectangular side rooms. The church dated from the eleventh century.
To the north and immediately adjoining the Church of Saint George, the Church of Saint Michael was so poorly rebuilt by the time S. Clarke discovered it that the original structure could no longer be recognized. In the condition reported by Clarke, it was similar to the churches of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries from the Akhmim area.
In its present condition the Church of Saint John represents at least three distinct phases of building. Of these, the middle phase,
which has the form of a domed basilica consisting of two domed rooms one behind the other, was the most important. The previous
structure, considerable sections of which are preserved on the south and east sides, appears to have been primarily a building with
columns. What it looked like originally can be ascertained only by excavation.
Last, the al-‘Adhra’ Church was a small, insignificant chapel. Despite its narrowness, the naos was subdivided into three aisles that
had once been barrel-vaulted. Attached to the khurus (room between the naos and sanctuary) in the east, it was separated by a thick wall with a single opening in the middle. The actual sanctuary had a central apse and two side rooms.
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