A Paradise of Saints The So-Called Cave of Anba Hadra in Dayr Anba Hadra near Aswan

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Gertrude J. M. van Loon



The Monastery of Anba Hadra, also erroneously known as the Monastery of St. Simeon, is located on the west bank of the Nile near Aswan, and is one of the best-preserved monastic complexes in Egypt. One of the most intriguing features of the complex is the “Cave of Anba Hadra”, which is actually a small quarry, located at the north-western end of the church. It was said to be the dwelling place of Anba Hadra, an anchorite who lived in a desert cave before being consecrated as bishop of Aswan under Patriarch Theophilus (AD 385–412). While the quarry is partly demolished, it still contains wall paintings. A row of standing saints is painted on the remaining rock faces, and the ceiling is adorned with a colorful geometrical pattern that encloses squares and octagons with busts of Christ and saints. The series of saints includes monks and hermits, bishops or patriarchs, apostles, and evangelists, as well as an Old Testament figure. These paintings are believed to date back to the end of the 7th or beginning of the 8th century. Although incomplete, the combination of holy figures in the paintings raises questions about memory, remembrance, tradition, models, and inspiration. Overall, the Monastery of Anba Hadra and its Cave provide a valuable glimpse into the rich cultural and religious history of Egypt, and ongoing research will help to shed further light on this fascinating complex.


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