DAYR AL-SAB‘AT JIBAL. [In two parts this entry discusses the history and description, as well as the architecture of Dayr al-Sab‘at Jibal.]
This monastery is in Wadi bir al-‘Ayn, southwest of AKHMIM. It is without doubt the one called Dayr Abu Halbanah by ABU SALIH THE ARMENIAN (1895, p. 243), for this author placed the latter to the east of Akhmim near a spring that flows in the mountain not far from a cistern, which corresponds very well to the present position of Dayr al-Madwid.
Al-MAQRIZI (d. 1441; 1853, Vol. 2, p. 504) called it Dayr al-Sab‘at Jibal (Monastery of Seven Mountains) because of its situation among lofty mountains. The sun, he said, gives light there only two hours after sunrise, and similarly night falls two hours before sunset. Near the spring grew a willow that, according to al-Maqrizi, gave its name to the monastery (Dayr al-Safsafah). The wadi in which this monastery is situated is called Wadi al-Muluk by reason of the plant, al-mulukah, according to al-Maqrizi.
This monastery has been described by travelers: P. Lucas (1719, Vol. 2, p. 362); R. Pococke (1743-1745, Vol. 1, p. 78); and G. MASPERO (1886, pp. 213-14), who cited the preceding authors and described the state of the monastery around 1880. Others were A. Gayet (1905, pp. 26-50); M. Jullien (Martin, 1972, pp. 125-27); G. Daressy (1917, p. 13); and O. Meinardus (1965, p. 298; 1977, p. 410), who described it in its present state.
The Coptic and Greek inscriptions have been collected by U. Bouriant (1888, pp. 131-59) and G. Lefebvre (1907, p. 66, nos. 351, 352).
Some have wished to locate here the last place of exile of Nestorius because his name appears ten or twelve times (cf. Gayet's article, which was criticized in Archaeological Report; Griffith, 1904-1905, p. 82).
The description of the site invites consideration of it not as a monastery in the proper sense but as a small LAURA. The hermits were no doubt attracted there by the frequenting of the spring to which the people attached superstition, since this is desert country; and perhaps by its proximity to the road from Akhmim to the Red Sea (cf. Nassiri Khosrau, 1881, p. 175).
MAURICE MARTIN, S.J.
This frequently mentioned but rarely visited monastery is distinguished not so much by its actual significance as by its almost mythical fame, in part attributable to its remoteness. It is found in the vicinity of a small watering place, reached after a walk of about an hour and a half from the entrance to the valley, and offers a modest horticultural living for the few people who have their residence there. Consequently, the colony of monks that resided there could not at any time have been large. In fact, besides a few Greek and Coptic graffiti, the remains of the monks' accommodations can be recognized only in an almost inaccessible position against the rock wall. The small building with a semicircular buttress projecting from one of the walls in the bottom of the valley was regarded by Christians as a church (among others, Munier, 1940, p. 156; Meinardus, 1965, p. 298) and by Muslims as a mosque, but it is, in fact, a cistern dating from the early medieval period. The water of this spring was already attracting visitors in pharaonic times and is still regarded by the population as possessing healing powers. However, it is wrong to think that caravans used to traverse this valley, since a few hundred meters beyond the spring the terrain is impassable.
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