The Monastery of Saint Simeon

The monastery of Saint Simeon is situated on the western side of the Nile, south of Qubbet al-Hawa. It is one of the largest and most well preserved monastic sites in Egypt, dedicated to a local saint who became bishop of Aswan under Theophilus (389-412). Of its origins we know little, although it is believed to have been built in the seventh century. It was restored and partly rebuilt in the tenth century and then abandoned in the thirteenth. The reason may have been constant attack by roving bands of desert tribes, or perhaps the drying up of water sources. The monastery, built on two levels, covers an area of ninety by one hundred meters. It is surrounded by a wall over six meters high, with towers facing east. This has given rise to speculation that the structure was originally a Roman fortress. The upper level is made of sun-dried brick and the lower of rough hewn stone sunk into the rock. The series of vaulted chambers occupying the spacious courtyard probably func¬tioned as storerooms. The courtyard itself was possibly a manger for livestock. Elsewhere are a milling yard, with a massive grinding stone decorated with Coptic crosses, and brick ovens. The church lies in the southeast of the enclosure. The roof was originally a series of domes supported by square pillars. The domed apse on the east has a well-preserved painting of Christ enthroned. His hand is raised in benediction; he is flanked by a quartet of angels, two on each side. The two main angels have wings, longhair, and splendid robes. Around the walls are paintings of Saint Michael, Saint George and the archangel Gabriel, and the Twelve Apostles. A cave leading off from the northwest corner of the chapel is believed to have been the dwelling of the patron saint. It has painted walls and a decorative ceiling. At the northern end of the upper enclosure is a two-storied residence with a large cell-lined hall on the upper level. The windows, which actually overlook the northern wall, have a splendid view. Although the monastery has never been reoccupied by monks, an annual mulid is held in honor of the saint, and a guard will show visitors around.

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