The monastery of Saint Samuel the Confessor, or Deir el-Qalamun, is one of the Coptic monasteries located in the western desert.
Location of the Monastery of Saint Samuel the Confessor
Monastery of Saint Samuel, the Confessor in Qalamun, is located on the northern edge of the valley Wadi el-Muweiliḥ south of Wadi El Rayan in the western desert in Beni Suef west Gebel el-Qalamūn. The approximately 20-kilometre long valley formed part of the caravan route between Minya and Faiyum.
Meaning of the name el-Qalamun
El-Qalamun is probably derived from the Greek word Κάλαμος, Kalamos. Slightly cut, it can be used as a writing instrument. However, it can also be used for the production of wicker. Behind it lies reeds, which were present in the marshy environment of the monastery.
History of the Monastery of Saint Samuel the Confessor
The monastery dates back to the end of the 3rd century or the 4th century until the Christian persecution under Emperor Diocletian. According to a Coptic manuscript about the martyrdom of Saint Psote: hermits were already living in caves along Qalamun valley at that time. Later, probably in the 5th century, these hermits as Cenobites formed a monastic community. According to Saint Samuel’s life story, written by his successor Isaak, he came upon a deserted church and restored the church and the monk’s cells. In addition, he built a new church for the saint. The first income of the monastery came from the sale of basket-ware. The monastery experienced a considerable upswing. When Samuel died in 695 at 98 years, about 120 monks lived in the sanctuary.
The monastery was plundered several times by Bedouins during Samuel’s lifetime and the following centuries. Despite challenging times, the monastery continued and, at the turn of the 13th century, flourished with 130 monks and twelve chapels, as reported by Abu Salih, the Armenian historian Abu el-Makarim. One of the churches was consecrated to the Blessed Virgin.
The monastery was surrounded by a large wall with four defensive and residential towers and encompassed a large garden next to the chapels. A monk named Muhna lived in a cave of Gebel el-Qalamun. Possibly the monastery was already in decline in the 14th century. In 1353 the relic of Saint Ischkirun was moved from el-Qalamun to the Monastery of St. Macarius in Wadi Natrun. Pope Gabriel V, the 88th patriarch and pope of Alexandria (1409-1427), came from this monastery. Until the report of the Arab historian al-Maqrizi (1364-1442), there were hardly any other sources. In his time, monks inhabited the monastery. Al-Maqrizi mentioned two of the four towers and two references. A rather unusual note on the hermitage can be found in a treasure-digging book from the 15th century, the “Book of buried pearls and valuable secrets for hints of hiding places, finds and treasuries.”
Historians believe that monks abandoned the monastery probably in the 17th century. The representations, such as the twelve apostles above a niche, were still well preserved. The Italian adventurer Giovanni Battista Belzoni (1778-1823) was the first European in 1819 to visit the now manless monastery and describe the catacombs church, today’s crypt. He saw the monastery on his return from Siwa via al-Bahriya to Faiyum.
The monastery enclosure measured 55 x 67 meters, and its entrance was on the south side. The Frenchman Frédéric Cailliaud (1787-1869) mentioned the monastery, but the information came from the Arabs who had travelled there. After more than half a century, the German African scientist Georg Schweinfurth (1836-1925) reported in 1886 again about the monastery.
The monastery walls and the catacombs church were built from stone blocks that Schweinfurth dated to the 17th century. In the church, there were remains of the representation. On both sides of the altar, he made an app. Other traditions also originate from the British John Gardner Wilkinson (1797-1875, recreation 1825), the British cartographers Hugh John Llewellyn Beadnell (1874-1944, recreation 1899), 1895 (other sources also call 1897/1898 and 1880). The archpriest Ishaq el-Baramusi (died 1938), with ten of his followers from the monastery Paromeos Monastery in Wadi El Natrun, resettled in this monastery. At first, they lived in the crypt. The old walls served as a quarry for new monastery walls and buildings. They built structures within the new monastery complex el-Qaṣr above the crypt, serving as reception rooms, monks’ cells, magazines, kitchen and bakery.
Monks dug in the monastery area another fountain. They cleared it in 1899 to obtain sweet drinking water. After completing a new church for the Virgin St. Mary, Ishaq and his pupil and archpriest Ibrahim no longer experienced death because they had died before. Unfortunately, the partial demolition of old buildings also lost knowledge about the old monastery.
An archaeological study of the monastery has not yet been carried out. However, Egyptian Egyptologist Ahmed Fakhry (1905-1973) visited the monastery in June 1942 and October 1944 and described the crypt, the new buildings of the 19th/20th century. A century or the ornamental and floral-decorated stone fragments. About one hundred monks live in the monastery, which operates in the surrounding countryside of the monastery agriculture.
Churches and institutions within the monastery
When one enters the monastery and the church of the Virgin Mary circling in the counterclockwise direction, one arrives at a four small yard. The Northside of the Church of the Virgin Mary, whose steeple and domes surpass the monastery walls, is a small door to the monastery. In the courtyard’s north is the church entrance of Saint Virgo. to the south of the eastern monastery wall, a building with some monk cells. And in the south of the court of the el-Qasr called part of the monastery with the monk’s cells, the crypt and the church of St. Misael.
Southside of the Church of the Virgin Mary, The inner monastery area, is surrounded by a wall about five to six meters high. You can reach the monastery from the east. Before the entrance is an about 70-meter 2 yard at the north side of a new 3 three naves with two church towers and a central dome against the altar arises, The church was not finished and consecrated in 2010. About 300 meters northwest of this new church, the remnants of former monastery facilities and the former monastery enclosing wall stand far north.
The Virgin Mary Church is the newest, established in 1958 on the site of a former church. The three-nave church, about 20 meters long from the west to the east, is crowned by twelve domes. There are three helices east of the church, altar rooms, Archangel Michael in the north, the Holy Virgin Mary and St. George. A dome also crowns the altar rooms. On the north wall are the relics of St Samuel the Confessor and St. Apollo.
Church of St. Misael
Northside of the Church of St. Misael In the south of the courtyard, father Isaac 1905 built the Church of St. Misael on the top floor. This church with a pointed roof has only one altar, separated from the church by a stone shielding wall. The icons on the screen are modern. Among them are Christ and Mary, and the 12 Apostles and the Eucharist. Other icons bear the portraits of St. George, the Archangel Michael, Samuel and the Ascension of St. Mary.
The life of St. Misael the Anchorite (Arabic القديس ميصائيل السائح, al-Qiddis Mīṣā’īl as-Sa’ih ) at the time of the monastery abbot St. Isaac, the successor of St. Samuel, asked the twelve-year-old Misael to join the monastery as a monk.
An old monk advised him to return to the Christian faith. The strictly faithful father did as the monk charged him, and his wife bore him a son whom they called Misael. At six, his parents died, and Bishop Athanasius drew him up, sent him to school, and administered the paternal inheritance.
Misael predicted the rise of famine, and the monastery chief was not to be afraid of the events. When the famine broke out, poor peasants went against the monastery because they suspected of eating food here. Soldiers had to go against the riot of the peasants. Misael spoke to the struggling men and went away with them. He ordered the monastery’s priest to take precautions against a renewed famine.
A year later, a similar hardship was to take place. This time the Governor sent soldiers to confiscate the grain of the monastery. These soldiers, however, were driven out shortly afterwards by other warriors, who gave themselves as hermits from the desert, among them Misael. These ascetics rejected any reward. However, Misael asked the monastery supervisor Isaac to demand the paternal inheritance of Bishop Athanasius to be able to build a church in his name with money.
The church was built on the 13th Kiahk in memory of Saint Misael and his hermits. Misael prophesied to the convent-priest Isaac that he, Misael, would die in the following year. The only surviving weir and residential tower are west of the staircase to el-Qasr. Visitors can reach it via a drawbridge on the second floor. It probably dates back to the 6th century. Once there were four such towers in the monastery. Two relics exist in two cells on the east side of the courtyard. In one of the seven cells with the relics, the bodies of the father are St. Bisada (Arabic الأنبا بسادة, Al-Anba Bisāda ) and father St. Dumadius (Arabic الأنبا دوماديوس, Al-Anba Dūmādiyūs). Both were influential monks and builders of the Samuel Monastery after his re-colonization.
Relics of the fathers St. Bisada and St. Dumadius In the other cell are the relics of the corpse, personal objects and photos from the life of St. Father Andraus of Samueliten (Arabic: القديس أبونا أندراوس الصموئيلي, al-Qiddis Abuna Andraus as Ṣamū’īlī ). Andraus was born in 1887 in the village of el-Gafādūn (Arabic: الجفادون ) in the district of el-Faschn. He lost his eyesight at the age of three years old.
At 13, his father sent him to a branch of the Samuel Monastery, where he devoted himself to religious studies. At the age of 22, he entered the monastery. He led a life of obedience and devotion, full of simplicity and wisdom. Every day, despite his blindness, he managed to get the water out of the monastery fountain. In a time of plight, when monks abandoned the monastery, he alone guarded the monastery for four months only with bread and salty water. Later, he died on 7 February 1988, about ten o’clock in the evening. He performed miracles even after his death.
The so-called catacombs church of Saint Samuel is the oldest in the monastery. It dates back to the 5th century. It stands west of the church of Saint Misael, surrounded by monk’s cells. Therefore, their visit is only possible for monks and bishops who do not necessarily belong to the Coptic Orthodox rite. The crypt is about eight meters below the current ground level and consists of an anteroom, the narthex, and the church ship. Two stairs lead to a stone altar, the holiest.
Cave of St. Samuel
Approximately 3.3 kilometres of airline east of the Church of Saint Virgo lies in Gebel el-Qalamun at 160 meters, about 15 meters below the mountain range on the mountainside. The cave does not have any decoration, though it is marred with modern graffiti. There is only one altar in the cave. At the end of the cave is a water tank fed from rainwater. To get to the cave, one needs to turn right behind the southern wall gate of the monastery in an easterly direction on a slope that runs parallel to the monastery wall; after an interval of one kilometre, the pitch branches off to the north. After about 3.5 kilometres, one can reach the monastery farms and from there, after one more kilometre in the east, Samuel.
In an attack in El Idwa near Maghagha on 26 May 2017, on a bus with Coptic Christians who were on their way to the monastery, at least 30 people were killed and about two dozen injured. Ten armed attackers allegedly came from Libya. The terrorist organization Islamic State has claimed the deed for itself.
On 2 November 2018, a similar incident happened when masked shooters attacked a convoy of buses heading to the monastery. They killed nine Copt pilgrims who came from Minya and injured 12 others.