Monastery of the Archangel Gabriel is one of the oldest Coptic monasteries in El Fayoum, probably established in the 4th century by Bishop Aur the first. The monastery is also known as Abu khashaba. According to an old story, there is a wood piece in the ceiling of the Archangel Gabriel, which gave a prediction of the Nile flood. In the time of the mass, if this piece provides much water, this year will be at prosperity, but if it allows for a bit of water, this year will be in famine.
Location of the monastery of the Archangel Gabriel
The monastery of the Archangel Gabriel at Naqlun, also called Dajr el-Naqlun, is a Coptic monastery of the Archangel Gabriel located in northern Egypt, in the Faiyum Oasis, 16 km south-east of the city of Faiyum in the Libyan Desert.
The monastery’s foundation is related to the Coptic legend of Aur, the illegitimate son of the queen’s daughter and Abashit, the magician. Throughout this story, the angel Gabriel appears as the guardian of Aur, who was led to the mountain of al-Naqlun, where he built the church of Saint Gabriel. Also, Saint Samuel escaped with other monks to the hills in this area for about three and a half years. Later, Aur has ordained priest and consecrated bishop of the monastery from the 4th to the 6th centuries.
Architecture of Monastery of the Archangel Gabriel at Naqlun
The monastery has been functioning from the 5th century to the present day, but its organization changed with time. The monastery walls survived until now both in the outer and inner courtyards. The site also encompasses 90 rock-cut hermitages and the surrounding architecture from different periods. The Church of Saint Gabriel has three sanctuaries dedicated to the Archangel Gabriel, the Holy Virgin, and St. George.
The church of Archangel Gabriel
Copts dedicated the church to Archangel Gabriel. The church’s architectural form suggests that it dates back to the tenth or the twelfth century. They built it using burnt brick and arranged it on a rectangular basilica with three aisles. The main entrance leads to a vestibule. Then, a narrow corridor terminates at another small door that opens to the church itself. The church comprises three aisles by two similar colonnades. Each consists of three circular columns with Corinthian crowns, dating back to an older church. Also, the church contains a wooden ceiling with geometric designs.
The current church was rebuilt mainly and almost completely redecorated during the second part of the 19th century or 20th century. However, most of the material used perhaps came from the two former churches at Naqlun. Dedicated to Saint Gabriel, the church has three sanctuaries. The middle one is semi-circular and decorated with small columns devoted to the Archangel Gabriel, while the two others are for the Holy Virgin Mary and Saint George. The church comprises four sections by wooden screens from east to west.
The church is famous for its middle 11th-century wall paintings, covered with plaster. These paintings survived for centuries until they were rediscovered during the restoration process in 1991. There exist three groups of wall paintings. The first is in the outer corridor, while the others are in the northern aisle. These paintings are unique patterns of medieval Coptic art, accomplished with super skills. They represent the virgin and the child Jesus, apostles and Saints, Archangel Gabriel, Saint Mercurius, Saint Simeon and Saint George in a fabulous composition of standing figures or at the power and elegance of horses of the equestrian saints.
In July 1991, twelve naturally-preserved bodies were discovered about 150 meters southwest of the monastery, known with El-Fayoum Martyrs. These martyrs are murdered monks, women and children. However, there is no information about who they were or who killed them. The remains of those martyrs lie in a side room of the main church. These remains are encased in ornamented red velvet in glass boxes.
The monastery opens every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Since 1986, researchers from the Polish Centre of the Mediterranean Archaeology University of Warsaw, headed by Professor Włodzimierz Godlewski, have investigated the place. Later, In 1997, the mission restored the Church of Saint Gabriel.
Polish archaeologists also discovered two Christian necropolises. With more than 180 graves, Christian Cemetry is located west of the monastic complex and dates back to the 6th–the 7th century. Cemetery A contains about 500 burials dating from the 11th to the 13th century. Numerous fragments of textiles have been preserved in the graves.
The excavations also yielded about 1,000 Greek, Coptic, and Arabic texts and one in Latin, identified as a fragment of Livy’s History of Rome.
The wooden ceiling of the Church of the Archangel Gabriel was decorated with polychromies. Wall paintings of the Holy Virgin and the Apostles adorned the central apse. Archaeologists uncovered the wall depictions of the Archangel Gabriel, Saint Mercurius, Saint George, the Holy Virgin, Christ, Psote (Bisada), and Saint Simeon Stylites dated to the 11th century.