There are also the cave churches once inhabited by the Holy Family during its journey in Egypt. The churches, in these cases, were built by these caves or upon them. The monastery of the Virgin Mary at El-Ganadla is one of the cave churches that commemorate the holy family’s journey, whether in Lower or Upper Egypt. the Virgin Mary Monastery comes as a final stopping place of the Holy Family Upper Egypt.
The Monastery of El-Ganadla, also called the Monastery of the Virgin (Dayr al-‘Adra), was established in pharaonic quarries to the west of the village al-Ganadla, about 25 kilometres south of Asyut. It is often confused with the Monastery of St. Macrobius (Dayr Abu Maqrufa), a nearby laura dedicated to the sixth-century hermit St. Macrobius (Abu Maqrufa).
Description of Virgin Mary Monastery at El-Ganadla
The monastery of al-Ganadla has two churches, one from the nineteenth century and an older church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. A narrow corridor, through which the visitor enters a doorway to the southern part of the old church, separates the houses of worship. The naos is formed by the irregular shape of a quarry with the ceiling highest in the central part.
The mountain here possessed many caves that the hermits inhabited. We will concern only with one cave, in which the Virgin Mary hid in during her journey in Egypt. Saint Macrobius later transformed the cave to be a church. The iconostasis in this church consists of stone re-assembled in the first century AD, depicted with the shapes of the hieroglyphic Ankh sign and offerings. Copts carved some crosses, olive branches, and a fish on it.
Virgin Mary Church
The church has two altars: the main one bears the name of the Virgin and is surmounted with a dome. The other one bears the name of the archangel Michael and is also surmounted with a dome. At the western end of the cave are numerous wall paintings. All the architectural elements of the niches, walls and ceilings in the church were painted, probably in the sixth century. These early murals were plastered over in the eleventh or twelfth century also repainted with a series of saints, angels, and Communion of the Apostles on the north wall.
Copts cut the niches in all walls of the quarry. The niches have beautiful conches and a gable-shaped upper part, reminiscent of the niches in the churches of the monasteries in Sohag. As in the Monastery of St. Pshai (Red Monastery) church, all architectural elements of the niches, the walls, and the ceiling were painted, probably in the sixth century. The interiors of the niches were decorated with crosses set with gemstones (not one is alike) and inscriptions of the names of Christ as Savior through the cross.
Ornamental borders, gemstone crosses, branches, and leaves decorate the walls in various patterns.
The ceiling was painted with a cassette pattern filled with decorative motifs and a series of similar crosses in medallions. The upper part of the walls, along with the high ceiling, presents a series of unique paintings: canopies (a domed roof resting on columns) with plant motifs in between. Curtains drawn back hang between the columns, revealing a vase or across the architecture of the niches with painted crosses inside them seems to be repeated in paint on the walls.
The early murals were plastered over in the eleventh or twelfth century and repainted, this time with a series of saints, angels, and, on the north wall, the Communion of the Apostles: Christ, standing behind the altar as a priest, is distributing bread and wine to his disciples. Unfortunately, suffering considerable detail, restorer people expertly fixed these paintings. Although damaged, the extraordinary quality of the murals of the previous layer is still discernible.
The brickwork of the sanctuary dates from the nineteenth century. However, Christians used the quarry as a church during earlier times.
At the wide former entrance to the quarry, an apse was constructed with a small room to the north.
The altar screen was built of masonry and reused pieces of sculpture, decorative borders, and stelae. Their provenance is unknown, but they probably date to the time of the original church.
Art Influence on the Paintings
Nature has attracted Coptic artists through the ages. That is obvious in borrowing several floral elements in their art and architecture. The church of the Holy Virgin Mary, lying in El-Ganadla Monastery, is an excellent example of this kind of Coptic art. The church’s mural paintings dated back to the sixth century repainted in the eleventh century. The church is richly painted with several unique groups of floral motifs as; olive, grapevine, laurel plant, palm branches, lotus, leaves and rosettes rise from vases. Such floral motifs are of native species with Christian religious significance. This paper attempts to describe and analyze the floral mural paintings of the church. In addition, to identify plants and flowers species shown in the church. Artists adopted descriptive and analytical research methods