The Names of al-Suryan Monastery
The original name of the monastery is “The Monastery of the Virgin Mary”, as it is one of the monasteries of the Theotokos that appeared after the Council of Ephesus in the year 431 AD to confirm the doctrine of the Theotokos, meaning “Mother of God”, which the Orthodox adhered to against the heresy of Nestorius, who called otherwise.
It is also known as “Deir al-Suryan” because some Syrian monks (i.e., those from Syria, from the Levant) came to it and lived there with the Coptic monastic fathers in the period from the eighth century until the sixteenth century AD, and we know that the Syrian Church of Antioch and the Coptic Church of Alexandria are two sisters churches, having one straight Orthodox faith and one belief.
It is also known as “The Monastery of the Virgin Mary and Saint John Kama”, as his body was transferred to the Monastery of the Virgin Mary the Suryan after his departure in the year 859 A.D. The Virgin Mary had appeared in great glory to Saint John Kama the priest and blessed him and his monastic children. Then, she gave him three dinars of gold, with the sign of the cross on them, and said to him: “Take this and put it in the diakonia bag (meaning bag belonging to the service of the monastery), and the blessing of my son will be in it forever.”
The monastery is located approximately 14 kilometers from the rest house located in the middle of the Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road in Wadi El-Natrun in the Western Desert, in the wilderness of Sheheet, meaning Al-Iskeet (or The Balance of Hearts). A network of roads has recently been established to facilitate the transport leading to the monastery.
The Surface Area of the Ancient Monastery
The surface area of the ancient monastery is about an acre and thirteen square meters. Therefore, the monastery of the Virgin Mary al-Suryan is considered one of the smallest monasteries in terms of surface area. However, it is currently ranked first among the four monasteries in Wadi El-Natrun, as it contains rare Coptic treasures of wall paintings and stucco inscriptions that are of great importance, from an archaeological and artistic point of view.
The Walls of the Monastery and its Interior
The construction of the monastery wall dates back to the ninth century AD, during the period between 859 AD and 880 AD, in the times of Pope Shenouda I.
The monastery wall takes the rectangular shape as an example of Noah’s ark, as the length of the monastery from east to west is 146 meters, and the width of the monastery from north to south is 45 meters.
The northern wall starts from the east side, adjacent to it is the church of Anba Yahnnis al-Quasyr, then a group of cells, then the Church of the Virgin Mary, then another group of cells, then the archaeological door, on top of which the feeding room is located. The latter has three windows from inside, outside, and in the floor of the room. The window from the outside is for the monks to see whoever knocks on the door of the monastery from visitors and Bedouins. The windows from the inside is for the monks to see the monastery bell, and the window in the floor of the room is for the monks to drop a basket containing food and water for the Bedouins without opening the door of the monastery. This was in the past, but now the monastery has a specific schedule for opening and closing the door.
As for the southern wall, it does not have any adhesion except for the Church of Our Lady al-Suryan, which had a group of windows on the southern side, but it was closed in the thirteenth century AD.As for the western wall, it is adjacent to the monastery’s cemetery. On the southern side of the monastery’s wall, there is a set of stairs ending with a door that leads to the cells of the monks and modern farms. In the middle of the wall, on the eastern side, there is a large apse decorated with mosaics, which show the scene of Christ the Pantocrator sitting on the throne and surrounded by the four incarnate creatures, in front of which the monks pray the vespers psalms daily. Finally, there is the church of St. John Kama on the northern side.
The Modern Gate of the Monastery
The modern gate of the monastery was built in 2004 AD in the Coptic style in terms of arches and lighthouses. It has three central mosaic drawings, the middle one shows the arrival of the Holy Family to Egypt. The one on the right shows the Virgin Mary and Saint John, the priest. On the other side, there is the scene of Christ knocking on the door.