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 Saint Macrobius (Abu Maqrufa).
Location of the Monastery of El-Ganadla
The Monastery of El-Ganadla stands in the nearby mount of a village that carries the same name, Deir Al Ganadlah, El Ghanayem, Assiut Governorate.
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 exists through which the visitor enters a doorway to the southern part of the old church, separating the houses of worship. At the same time, the naos has an irregular quarry shape, with the ceiling highest in the central region.
The mountain here possessed many caves that the hermits inhabited. We will concern only with one cave, in which the Virgin Mary hid 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 crown. Also, there are numerous wall paintings at the western end of the cave. 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. Christians also repainted them with a series of saints, angels, and the Apostles’ Communion 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 cavities in the churches of the monasteries in Sohag. As in the Monastery of Saint Pshai (Red Monastery) church, Dayr El-Ganadla dates back to the same period. In other words, all architectural elements of the niches, the walls, and the ceiling paintings, probably, dates back to the sixth century. Monks also decorated the interiors of the cavities 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 architecture of the niches with painted crosses inside them has a repetition theme in paint on the walls. Copts painted the ceiling with a cassette pattern filled with decorative motifs and a series of similar crosses in medallions. However, the upper part of the walls and the high top present a series of unique paintings: canopies (a domed roof resting on columns) with plant motifs in between. At the same time, curtains drawback and hang between the columns, revealing a vase or across.
The Apostles Communion on the north wall: Christ, standing behind the altar as a priest, is distributing bread and wine to his disciples. The early murals were plastered over in the eleventh or twelfth century and repainted with a series of saints angels. Though suffering considerable detail, fortunately, restorers 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.
Copts constructed an apse with a small room to the north at the wide former entrance to the quarry.
Copts used masonry to build the altar screen and reused pieces of sculpture, decorative borders, and stelae. The origin of this collection 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. Indeed, 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. El-Ganadlah church has images richly 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. In addition, to identify plants and flowers species shown in the church, Coptic artists adopted descriptive and analytical research methods.