al-Suryān, Dayr Monastery of the Syrians, Egypt [Syr. Orth.]

Monastery situated halfway between Cairo and Alexandria in the Wadi al-Natrun, ancient Scetis, Egypt. Today one of the flourishing monasteries of the Coptic Church, it derives its name from the earlier presence of a Syr. Orth. community. Whereas its foundation as an Egyptian monastery probably goes back to the 6th cent., the earliest evidence of the Syrian presence (in the first period mainly monks from Tagrit) is from ca. 800. The Syrian presence came to an end, or lost its prominence, at the beginning of the 17th cent.; from then onwards the monastery has been entirely Coptic.

The main significance of Dayr al-Suryān for Syriac studies lies in the fact that it has preserved hundreds of ancient Syriac mss. From the early 18th cent. these began to be transferred to European libraries. A  number of mss. came to the Vatican Library; the bulk reached the British Museum, London, in the 19th cent. and are now at the British Library. The Monastery still holds a small collection (a catalogue is in preparation). The Dayr al-Suryān mss. include the earliest dated Syriac ms. (411), a great majority of all preserved pre-10th-century mss., and our main witnesses for the writings of important authors such as Aphrahaṭ, Ephrem, Philoxenos of Mabbug, and Severus of Antioch. No other place in the Middle East has yielded such a wealth of Syriac mss. The colophons of the mss. are the main source for our knowledge of the history of Dayr al-Suryān. Recent discoveries of murals, paintings as well as texts, in the Church of the Virgin provide additional information.

In an attempt to explain and justify the presence of the Syrians, three late notes in mss. — two of which can be dated to the 16th and 17th cent. — claim that Dayr al-Suryān was purchased by Tagritans at an unknown date through the intermediary of a certain Marutha. It is very unlikely, however, that a formal purchase ever took place. A recently discovered inscription indicates that Syrians were involved in the rebuilding of the Monastery in 818/19, after it had suffered damage. It must have been on that occasion that they started settling in. Even though a few decades later, the Monastery began to be referred to as ‘Monastery of the Syrians’, there is evidence that throughout the centuries Coptic and Syriac monks lived together.

A period of particular wealth was the first half of the 10th cent., when Mushe of Nisibis was abbot. Syriac inscriptions in the church bear witness to his building activities. To the collection of Syriac mss. he added 250 volumes, which he brought back from a journey to Mesopotamia (927–31/32). In addition to the mss. imported from the Syro-Mesopotamian homeland, Syriac mss. were also produced in the Monastery itself.

The history of Dayr al-Suryān after the 10th cent. is less well known. There was a period of revival around 1200 and in the 13th cent., when new mss. were acquired and new wall paintings were produced. This is also the period to which a number of Coptic and Christian-Arabic mss. in Dayr al-Suryān can be dated. Towards the end of the 15th cent., an abbot of Lebanese origin, Quryaqos (Cyriacus, also known as Severos) gave a fresh impetus to the intellectual and cultural life in the Monastery. In 1516, 43 monks were living in Dayr al-Suryān, 18 Syrians and 25 Egyptians.

In the 18th cent., the Church of the Virgin was completely replastered, except for three semi-domes that continued to show their 13th-cent. paintings. It is only in 1995 that conservators and art historians began to remove parts of the plaster, thus allowing the earlier layers to reveal a wealth of paintings as well as texts in Greek, Coptic, Syriac, and Arabic.

See Fig. 14, 37, 38, 58, 89, 90, 96, 110, and 113.


  • S. P.  Brock, ‘Without Mushē of Nisibis, where would we be? Some reflections on the transmission of Syriac culture’, in SymSyr VIII, 15–24.
  • J.  den Heijer, ‘Relations between Copts and Syrians in the light of recent discoveries at Dayr as-Suryān’, in Coptic Studies on the threshold of a new millennium, ed. M. Immerzeel and J. van der Vliet (OLA 133; 2004), vol. 2, 923–38.
  • K.  Innemée and L.  Van Rompay, ‘La présence des Syriens dans le Wadi al-Natrun (Égypte). À propos des découvertes récentes de peintures et de textes muraux dans l’Église de la Vierge du Couvent des Syriens’, ParOr 23 (1998), 167–202.
  • B.  Snelders, M.  Immerzeel, and L.  Van  Rompay, ‘The Thirteenth-Century Flabellum from Deir al-Surian in the Musée Royal de Mariemont (Morlanwelz, Belgium)’, ECA 1 (2004), 134–7.
  • Fr. B. el-Suriany, ‘The manuscript collection of Deir al-Surian: Its survival into the third millennium’, in Coptic Studies on the threshold of a new millennium, ed. M.  Immerzeel and J.  van der Vliet (OLA 133; 2004), vol. 1, 281–94.
  • L.  Van Rompay, ‘Les inscriptions syriaques du Couvent des Syriens (Wadi al-Natrun, Égypte)’, in Les inscriptions syriaques, ed. F.  Briquel Chatonnet, M.  Debié, and A.  Desreumaux, (ÉtSyr 1; 2004), 55–73 with pl. III.
  • L.  Van Rompay, ‘A precious gift to Deir al-Surian (AD 1211): Ms. Vat. Syr. 13’, in Malphono w-Rabo d-Malphone, ed. G.  Kiraz, 735–50.
  • L. Van Rompay and A. B. Schmidt, ‘Takritans in the Egyptian Desert: The Monastery of the Syrians in the Ninth Century’, JCSSS 1 (2001), 41–60.
  • H. G. E.  White, The Monasteries of the Wâdi ’n Natrûn, vol. 2. The history of the monasteries of Nitria and of Scetis; vol. 3. The architecture and archaeology (1932–1933).
  • Wright, Catalogue … British Museum.

| al-Suryān, Dayr |


Front Matter A (73) B (53) C (26) D (36) E (27) F (5) G (30) H (22) I (31) J (15) K (11) L (12) M (56) N (19) O (3) P (28) Q (11) R (8) S (71) T (39) U (1) V (5) W (3) X (1) Y (41) Z (4) Back Matter
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