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Monastery of Apa Apollo in Bawit Konstantinidou, Alexandra


The monastic settlement of Apa Apollo in Bawit is situated in middle-Egypt, between the modern cities of al-Minya and Assiut. It lies on the edge of the Nile Valley, on a naturally formed hill (kom). It is a typical ‘monastic village’, with hermitages built close to each other. According to the Historia Monachorum in Aegypto, it was founded by Abba Apollo around 386-388 AD, but no archaeological evidence of such an early date is traced so far. According to inscriptions, the monastery existed until the tenth century, while the site was abandoned in the late eleventh or beginning of the twelfth century. Walter Ewing Crum and Jean Clédat were the first to identify the site as the monastery of Apa Apollo in the early 20th century. Archaeological investigations were first carried out by a French expedition (IFAO) between 1901/1902 and 1913. The site was then researched again in 1976-1985 by the Egyptian Antiquities Organisation. Fieldwork was resumed in 2003 (by IFAO and the Louvre) and continues until nowadays. The excavations have brought to light three churches. The ‘southern’ church was probably built in the seventh century AD. It was excavated in the early twentieth century and after the end of the investigations, it was destroyed by the removal of the architectural sculpture and a selection of wall paintings. The removed finds are nowadays kept in the Coptic Museum in Cairo and in the Louvre Museum. The church of Archangel Michael (also known as ‘northern’ church) is a three-aisled building with a sanctuary at the east, measuring 20.10 x 12.20 m. The walls are made of fired-brick and mud-brick and the floor is of limestone slabs. A wooden screen divides the sanctuary into two parts. The presence of a khurus in the western part is an indication that the church was built after the middle of the seventh century or the beginning of the eighth century. Wallpaintings decorated the walls, the columns and the pillars at the interior of the church. The main church of the complex is a three-aisled basilica with a tripartite sanctuary at the east, measuring 21.2 x 39.6 m (max. dim). Its walls are made of fired bricks with an external facing of limestone blocks. The building underwent various modifications (e.g. reconstruction of south wall with reused blocks, addition of a khurus in the seventh century). The main church was constructed in the late 6th-early seventh century AD. The interior of the entire building was decorated with wall-paintings. Furthermore, the carved architectural decoration in wood and stone would have been quite elaborate, as indicated by the large number of sculpted architectural remains, which are unearthed. In addition to the churches, many buildings were discovered. Some of them were rather impressive, with several barrel-vaulted storeys, and walls decorated with wallpaintings, inscriptions, dipinti, and so on. They were initially identified as chapels, but it is now known that they must have been monastic dwellings. Among them, the so-called 'Building 1' is fully excavated. It consists of several rooms surrounding a courtyard. Access to the building was given from the southwestern room. The walls of a vaulted room, east of the courtyard was richly decorated with wall-paintings. The geophysical survey carried out by T. Herbich showed that the site was densely inhabited, especially in the northern part of the hill. However, it is difficult to know how many of the hermitages were occupied simultaneously. A survey that was conducted in 2005-2006 (IFAO) on the top of the rocky plateau that rises to the west of the hill revealed clusters of hermitages, probably dating to the seventh/ eighth century AD. (Wipszycka 2018, 322-328) Numerous papyri and ostraca written mainly in Coptic, but in Greek as well, provide significant information about the monastic community living in Bawit. They were discovered either during the excavations, or in museum collections. The publications about the site are profuse (only a selection is included below).

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