The Monastery of Deir el-Bakhît
The Monastery of Deir el-Bakhît is situated on the ridge of Draʻ Abu el-Naga, a chain of hills located on the Theban West Bank in Upper Egypt. The site encompasses several pharaonic tombs that were used as hermitages by individual monks of the original monastic settlement in the 5th century AD (the so-called Units 26 and 27), as well as a walled monastery complex of the late 6th century/early 7th century AD that was inhabited by a coenobitic monastic community (fig. 1).
The hermitages of the outlying Units 26 and 27 can be identified as the oldest monastic structures on the Dra’ Abu el-Naga hill.
An anchorite seems to have lived in Unit 26 and soon attracted visitors or other hermits who then settled in the neighbouring pharaonic tombs. Inscriptions referring to Apa Paulos, who may have been the founding father, were discovered in Units 26 and 27 and on ostraca found in the main monastery. A close association between the two external units and the main monastery is therefore certain.
The identification of this monastery with that of the Monastery of Paulos mentioned in various texts allows us to set its correspondence and commercial activities into context with other monasteries. As a result of investigations carried out in the founding cell in Unit 26, and in the area of the access routes that lead to the monastery, the interconnection of the various installations and features that constitute the sacral topography on the Dra’ Abu el-Naga hill have been clarified to a great extent.
In 2014, a geophysical survey and the excavation of test trenches were undertaken in the main monastery complex with the aim of locating the monastery’s church. Conclusive results, however, were not obtained. On the other hand, a small chapel came to light in the hermitage of Unit 26 (fig. 2), which was most probably visited by pilgrims even as late as the 12th century.
History of research at Deir el-Bakhît and further research objectives
One of the initial aims of the years 2004–2009 was to investigate the monastery’s central buildings and to explore the day-to-day life of the coenobitic monastic community of Deir el-Bakhît.
In the years 2010–2012, the surrounding area of the coenobitic monastery was investigated by means of a survey under the direction of Dr. Thomas Beckh. The goal was to reconstruct the settlement development of the monastic structures and features on the Dra’ Abu el-Naga hill. During these investigations, it became increasingly clear that the monastery could be identified as the Monastery of Paulos in the mountains of Djeme, hitherto only known from written sources.
As a result of the survey’s findings, research since 2012 has focused on the sacral topography of the entire Dra’ Abu el-Naga hillside in the frame of the project entitled “Sacral Topography of a Monastic Landscape and its Development on the Hill of Dra’ Abu el-Naga / Upper Egypt: Deir el-Bakhît and the Theban Monastery of Paulos – Pilot Phase”.
Fig. 1: J. Sigl ©DAI/LMU; fig. 2: T. Beckh ©DAI/LMU.