Wadi El Natrun

“Wadi El Natrun (Arabic for “Natron Valley”; Coptic: Šihēt “Measure of the Hearts”, Greek: Σκῆτις or Σκήτη) is a valley located in Beheira Governorate, Egypt, including a town with the same name. The name refers to the presence of eight different lakes in the region that produce natron salt.
In Christian literature it is usually known as Scetis (or Skete; Σκήτις, Σκέτη in Ancient greek) and is one of the three early Christian monastic centers located in the desert of the northwestern Nile Delta. The other two monastic centers are Nitria and Kellia. These three centers are often easily confused and sometimes referred to as a single place (such as “Nitria” or “Nitrian Desert”), but the locales are distinct, though geographically close together and with interrelated histories. Scetis, now called Wadi El Natrun, is best known today because its ancient monasteries remain in use, unlike Nitria and Kellia which have only archaeological remains.
The Nitrian Desert is sometimes used to mean the entire region where the monasteries are located. It can also more specifically refer to the immediate area around Nitria and Kellia, with the region around Wadi El Natrun then more specifically called the Scetis Desert.
natroun 2
The desolate region became one of Christianity’s most sacred areas. The desert fathers and cenobitic monastic communities used the desert’s solitude and privations to develop stoic self-discipline (asceticism). Hermit monks believed that desert life would teach them to eschew the things of this world and follow God’s call. Between the 4th and 7th century A.D., hundreds of thousands of people from the world over joined the hundreds of Christian monasteries in the Nitrian Desert, centered on Nitria, Kellia and Scetis (Wadi El Natrun).
Saint Macarius of Egypt first came to Scetis (Wadi El Natrun) around 330 AD where he established a solitary monastic site. His reputation attracted a loose band of anchorites, hermits and monks who settled nearby in individual cells. Many of them came from nearby Nitria and Kellia where they had previous experience in solitary desert living; thus the earliest cenobitic communities were a loose a consolidation of like-minded monks. By the end of the fourth century, four distinct communities had developed: Baramus, Macarius, Bishoi and John Kolobos. At first these communities were groupings of cells centered on a communal church and facilities, but enclosed walls and watchtowers developed over time and in response to raids from desert nomads. Nitria, Kellia, and Scellis also experienced internal fractures related to doctrinal disputes in Egypt. The monasteries flourished during the Muslim conquest of Egypt (639-42), but in the eighth and ninth centuries taxation and administration concerns led to conflicts with the Muslim government. Nitria and Kellia were eventually abandoned in the 7th and 9th centuries respectively, but Scetis continued throughout the Medieval period. Although some of the individual monasteries were eventually abandoned or destroyed, four have remained in use to the present day:
• Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great
• Paromeos Monastery
• Monastery of Saint Pishoy
• Syrian Monastery”

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“The Scetis Valley in Egypt, now known as the Wadi al-Natrun, is twenty-two miles long and lies west of the Nile River in the Libyan Desert. The name Scetis comes from the Coptic word Shi-het, meaning “to weigh the heart”. The valley lies slightly below sea level and is dotted with oases and marshes. Despite the low elevation and water resources, the Scetis Valley was a dangerous place; early writings are replete with travelers who went astray and died trying to cross it.
The monasteries of the Scetis Valley were not like the large centralized communities that would come to define monasteries in the Middle Ages. Instead, the Scetis monasteries were a collection of hermits who for the most part lived separately, each in his own cell, but who would come together for weekly prayers and holy days. These small cells could be close together or widely scattered, making their exact locations hard to find. Later, when major buildings were erected, the cells associated with them were relatively easy to find, but the locations of the earliest cells became even harder to know with certainty. Modern scholars now estimate the most famous of these monasteries, the Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great, to be roughly 92 kilometres (57 mi) northwest of Cairo.”
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See also “Scetis” in The Claremont Coptic Encyclopedia: http://ccdl.libraries.claremont.edu/cdm/ref/collection/cce/id/1715

“The Monasteries of the Arab Desert: Arid and mountainous, the Arab Desert stretches its great lonely spaces from the Nile Valley to the Red Sea. The monasteries of St. Anthony and of St. Paul are about 10 km south of Zafarana, a place on the western shore of the Red Sea (about 230 km south-east of Cairo). The first monastery is on the flank of Gabal al-Alaa al-Qibliya, there where the cave of St. Anthony is located and where he lived until his death in 356 AD. The second monastery is slightly further to the west on the same mountain where St. Paul lived for 60 years according to the legend (at the beginning of the IVth century AD). B/ The Monasteries of Wadi Natrun The Wadi Natrun is a 25 km long depression in the western desert half-way between Cairo and Alexandria where there are about a dozen saline lakes, two of which, the Bouhaïret el-Gounfadiya and the Bouhaïret el-Hamra, provide natron, the sodium carbonate used by the Pharaohs for mummification. Only four out of the fifty Coptic monasteries which existed in the past have survived to the present day. One is the St. Macarius monastery (Deir Abu Makaria) 94 km south-last of Cairo and the three others, the monastery of the Romans (Deir el Baramos), the monastery of the Syrians (Deir es-Souriyan) and the St. Pshoï monastery (Deir Amba Bichoi) are 10 km away from the first monastery. The St. Anthony monastery (Deir Mar Antonios) This is the oldest monastery in Egypt. St. Anthony, with St. Pacomius (287-347 AD) were one of the first leaders of the Church, and founders of Christian monasticism. Towards the end of the IIIrd century Anthony (251-356 AD) abandoned his property and retired into the Arab Desert to live there as a hermit. He chose the Gebel el Qalaa el-Qibliya to come closer to God and lived in a cave where his disciples founded a monastery. The first reference to a monastic organisation only appears at the beginning of the VIIth century. Then, very quickly, a village with its church, its chapels, its bread oven, its mills, cells and its gardens grew up around the cave.”

For the Yale Egyptological Institute Wadi al-Natrun Project see: http://www.yale.edu/egyptology/ae_al-natrun.htm
macarius monastery
For the Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great see further:
For Saint Macarius the Great, see http://orthodoxwiki.org/Macarius_the_Great
For the Paromeos Monastery [Baramos Monastery ] see further:
bishoy monastery
For the Monastery of Saint Pishoy see further:
syrian monastery
For the Syrian Monastery [Suryan Monastery, Deir el-Surian, Deir el-Syriani, or the monastery / church of Maria Deipara ]see further:

See further

Magad S. A. Mikhail, Mark Moussa (eds) “Christianity and Monasticism in Wadi Al-Natrun: Essays from the 2002 International Symposium of the Saint Mark Foundation and the Saint Shenouda the Archimandrite Coptic Society” [The American University in Cairo Press, 2009]
christianity natroun
“This book offers important contributions to the archaeology and history of Christianity in one of Egypt’s leading ancient Christian centers. Wadi al-Natrun, a depression in the Western Desert of Egypt, west of the Nile Delta and 23 meters below sea level, is one of the most important centers for the development and continued thriving of the Coptic monastic tradition. Christianity and monasticism have flourished there from as early as the fourth century until the present day, when four major monasteries still flourish. The contributors to this volume, international specialists in Coptology from around the world, examine various aspects of Coptic civilization in Wadi al-Natrun over the past seventeen hundred years. The studies center on aspects of the history and development of monasticism in Wadi al-Natrun, as well as the art, architecture, and archaeology of the four existing and numerous former monasteries of the region.”
A detailed summary of the book is available on-line at http://www.google.com.au/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=30&ved=0CGAQFjAJOBQ&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.universitypressscholarship.com%2Foso%2Fsearch%3Adownloadsearchresultaspdf%3Bjsessionid%3D471DCAEB6A0B66EBEB983FA5B5542AD6%3Ff_0%3Dkeywords%26q_0%3DCoptology&ei=VoPQUpbtLMjkiAefo4DoCQ&usg=AFQjCNEGfpi0Bg2rkOvdjiu1tfqvrH5prQ
natroun map
H. G. Evelyn White, “The Monasteries of the Wadi ‘N Natrun Part 1: New Coptic Texts from the Monastery of Saint Macarius” [New York 1926]: available on-line at http://suciualin.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/evelyn-white-new-coptic-texts.pdf

H. G. Evelyn White, “The Monasteries of the Wadi ‘N Natrun Part 2: The History of the Monasteries of Nitria and of Scetis” [New York 1932]: available on-line at http://suciualin.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/evelyn-white_monasteries-of-wadi-natrun.pdf

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