The roof of the first chorus has a dome in the middle and half-domes on both side. This is one of the most famous architectural styles in the past that were used in building churches. This chorus has frescoes that are considered one of the most important and rare monuments remaining so far, in their original colors and condition, in the monasteries of Wadi El-Natrun. It contains many frescoes – including a colored fresco of the Virgin Mary – and there are no icons or frescoes in all of Egypt of similar shape or surface area. These painting are from the tenth century AD: the southern fresco is a scene of the Annunciation and Nativity, and the northern fresco is a scene of the Departure of Virgin Mary. Besides, the commemorative painting of Anba Yahnnis Kama tells a summary of his life and mentions the day of his departure and his move to the Suryan Monastery.
Image of the Virgin Mary (The Nursing Mother)
On the right column of the entrance to the main sanctuary in the Suryan Church, we find a painting that was discovered in 1996 AD, and it is considered the first painting discovered in this church. It shows Virgin Mary the mother while she is breastfeeding her child, Lord Jesus, from the right side. Placing this painting on the right side of the sanctuary raises attention, as it is supposed that the icon of Christ is placed on the right side of the entrance to the sanctuary, and the icon of the Virgin Mary carrying the child Jesus is placed on the left side. However, this rule was not followed in this chorus, and we do not know the reason until now.We find this scene on a dark blue background surrounded by black, red and orange. This painting shows the Virgin Mary the Queen sitting on a finely decorated throne with a red cushion. The Virgin here wears a blue tunic with a blue scarf that tends to green and is also decorated with shapes of small crosses, her eyes look straight ahead, and her head is surrounded by a yellow halo. With her right hand she supports the baby Jesus, while with her left hand she supports her breast, which is depicted in a small and unnatural shape. On the left side of her head, there are inscriptions in Coptic letters which translates as “Saint Mary”.
Saints Sergios and Wachos
A painting was discovered on the half-column adjacent to the previous column on which the image of the Virgin Mother exists. It is welded to the door of the sanctuary, which caused part of it to be covered by the frame of the sanctuary wooden door (it is historically known to have been made in the year 914 AD).The picture shows a young man without a beard, standing, wearing blue clothes, with a short red tunic on top. From the picture, it appears that he is a military soldier or a prince because he wears a belt with a sword in a red sheath attached to it and he holds the sword with his left hand. The saint’s head is surrounded by a yellow halo and there is a black line dotted with white dots around it. The saint’s hair appears to be long, but the features are dark and unclear, and his eyes look straight ahead.When searching for the name of the saint, only some of the last letters of his name were found in a space to his right, in the Greek language, which indicates a name with many letters. The apparent letters are (ioc), which are the last letters of some Coptic and Greek names, such as: (Gawargios) or (Sergios) or (Demetrios). It is known that these saints were drawn in the form of young men without a beard, and in ancient iconography they were depicted standing and not riding any horses. Since the space to the right of the saint is short in size, this confirms a great possibility that he is Saint Sergios, because it is the smallest number of letters in the previous names.The researchers confirmed that there is a great similarity between the styles of this image and that of the image of the nursing Virgin Mary, which makes us think that it dates back to the second half of the seventh century AD.As for the column on which the saint is represented, we find that the crown of the column is conical in shape, and decorated with a cross surrounded by two red halos and green branches. This column was restored and reorganized by the Dutch mission between the years 1997-1998 AD.On the other side of the sanctuary gate, at the same level, and in the other half-column opposite to the previous image, the remains of a picture depicting another military saint also standing appear. Despite the loss of a large part of the painting, it is still easy to distinguish, and it is very similar to the opposite image on the right side of the column in terms of drawing, colors, and clothes. We find the saint wearing blue clothes with a red tunic over it, and it seems that he is a soldier because he wears a belt with a sword in a red sheath also attached to it and he holds the sword with his left hand. Around his head we find part of a luminous halo defined in red color, and his piercing and wide eyes look forward, symbolizing farsightedness and deep spiritual thinking. Thus they look completely alike, and since the first saint has been identified as Saint Sergios, it is likely that the second is his companion, Saint Wachos, and they are usually depicted as two young warriors. It is said that their presence in this place is an evidence that they are guards of the church sanctuary, and this scene also dates back to the middle of the seventh century AD.
Fresco of Annunciation and Nativity
The Annunciation and Nativity fresco is located in the southern half of the dome in the first chorus of the Suryan Church. It is of Syrian art and dates back to the thirteenth century AD and it is divided into two parts of equal size. The eastern section contains the Annunciation scene, and the western section contains the Nativity scene.
Annunciation Scene: the Virgin Mary stands in front of the angel Gabriel and looks down while the angel Gabriel looks at her, offering the greeting in the Syrian and Coptic languages, which is: “Peace be to you, O full of grace. The Lord is with you, blessed are you among women” as mentioned in the Gospel of our teacher (Luke 1:28)Nativity Scene: It is in the western section of the half-dome, and it shows the Virgin Mary sitting on a cushion and written on it in the Syrian language “Mary, Mother of God.” In front of her is the baby Jesus, whose head is surrounded by a luminous halo, and Joseph the carpenter stands next to them in the form of an old man with a white beard. A scene representing the Magi appears in one of the corners of the painting, and in another corner, appears a scene representing the shepherds. It is written on the top of the painting in the Syrian language: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill toward men, as mentioned in the Gospel (Luke 2:14).
Fresco of Nativity
The Fresco of Nativity is in the half-dome of the northern side of the first chorus in the Suryan Church, and it dates back to the seventh century AD. In the center appears the Virgin Mary sitting on a chair carrying the Lord Christ, glory be to Him, and there is a ray descending from heaven to the head of the Virgin Mary, as well as two angels between the sky and the head of the Virgin Mary from the left and from the right. This assures us that the Virgin Mary is the second heaven and the Cherubim Chariot.To the right of the Virgin Mary stands an angel guiding three Magi, and to the left of the Virgin Mary another angel stands preaching to three shepherds. This scene embodies the events of Christmas mentioned in the gospel of our teacher Matthew and the gospel of our teacher Luke. Also, the position of the Blessed Virgin carrying our Lord Jesus Christ is the common picture of the Theotokos, thus this painting connects the Church doctrine with the Holy Bible.
Saints Luke and Barnabas the Apostles
On the northern wall in the first chorus of the Suryan Church, below the half the dome that represents the birth of Jesus Christ, there is a beautiful scene representing two saints, Saint Luke and Saint Barnabas, the two apostles. We find a representation of Saint Barnabas on the right and Saint Luke on the left side, which is evident through their names written in the Coptic language on a black or dark blue background covered with a layer of wax colors, and thus differs from other inscriptions that were written on a white background.The painting is depicting them standing with the halo of light above their heads. St. Luke wears a brown cloak, and underneath it, a red robe decorated with inscriptions. He holds in his left hand the Holy Bible, with a cross drawn on it, and his cloak in his right hand. As for St. Barnabas, he wears a red cloak, under which is a blue robe, and he holds a rolled scroll in his left hand. The two saints are bearded with a short black beard, but there are no facial features shown. At the bottom of the painting, there are geometric and plant drawings. Behind the saints, the background is a vault raised on a pole in the middle, and this scene dates back to the eighth century AD.
Saint Pisanti and Saint Abakir
On the left side of the northern wall, we find a depiction of Saints Pisanti and Abaker, who can be identified through the inscription written in Coptic language next to their heads, representing their names. From the left side we find “O Agios” and from the right side “Santi”, i.e., Saint Pisanti.The saint depicted on the left side wears the clothes of a bishop, i.e. priestly clothes adorned with crosses, and holds the Bible with both hands. His head is surrounded by a halo of light, and has a long, white beard. The inscribed name of the saint is followed by the title of the founder, which also refers to the community in which he lived, which is Deir el-Bahari, where he lived in sixth century AD. This saint was born around the year 568 AD and was ordained bishop in the year 598 AD.On the right side of the picture, Saint Abakir stands, and his name is inscribed “Abakir”, known as the doctor. He carries in his left hand a medicine box and a medical tool in his right hand, and around his head is a luminous halo. He has a long white beard and he wears a red robe that reaches the length of the foot, and a shorter white cloak over it, resembling that of saints Cosman and Damian. This is Saint Abakir, the physician who died as a martyr during the era of Emperor Diocletian, and the Abu Qir district in Alexandria is named after him.
Anba Youssef (one of the monastic fathers)
To the left of the entrance to the first chorus of the Suryan Church, we find St. Joseph, who appears on a green background decorated with a red and black border. The image appears partially because it is covered with a layer of plaster from the third layer, which contains Syrian writings. The lower side of the drawing shows the upper side of the saint’s body, and on the left side there is a Greek writing. The drawing is covered with a layer of plaster from the third layer, so it does not show clearly.
Saint Abba Apollo
Anba Apollo is the founder of the monastic life in Deir Bawit. A painting was revealed on the column of the northwest wall in the first chorus of the Suryan Church, representing a monk wearing a red tunic with a blue scarf over it. Despite the damage to the artistic scene over the years, these clothes show the style of monks’ clothes that were usually followed in Upper and Lower Egypt. It is clear in the painting that he was holding something in his hand, and on the northern part some words appear beside his head in Coptic letters “Ava Apollo”. On the other side, a large star shows on a blue background. It was concluded that he is Saint Apollo the founder of Deir Bawit at the end of the fourth century AD. Although most of the features were obliterated, the Dutch restoration mission tried to work on this column and strengthen it to give it the same shape that dates back to the seventh century AD, and therefore the column crown and base were reconstructed.
Saint Abu Makar the Great
There is a painting of St. Abu Makar the Great on the half-column which is on the right side of the entrance to the first chorus of the Suryan Church, from the southern side. The scene represents a monk standing with his hands raised, and he has grey hair and a grey beard, and his head is covered with a black cap and a monastic head cover with black and white stripes on it. Around his head we find a yellow halo, and on the left side of his head there is the word (aBBa), which means Anba, and on the right side of his head are remains of unclear inscription. However, the last letters of his name are, without a doubt, (pioc), and it can be read roughly (Makarios), which explains the name of St. Makarios, the father of the monks.
The Saints Cosman and Damian
On the southern wall of the first chorus in the church, there is a painting of Saints Cosman and Damian. It was confirmed that the drawing belongs to these two saints because there are some letters from the names, for example letters such as (o asioc kocua) meaning Saint Cosman, and they carry some medical tools that indicate their profession. In addition, there are two vessels (in the form of two cylinders), which may refer to a portable medicine cabinet that they carry with them, as they were doctors.
St. Markoltah the doctor
On the central part of the southern wall in the first chorus of the Suryan Church, there is a wonderful painting that was discovered. The painting shows a saint who is sitting on a small decorated chair, facing towards the right, with grey hair and a long grey beard, and wearing red and gray clothes. In front of him, there is a person who appears to be a patient dressed in red clothes covered with green. The saint is holding in his right hand a medical instrument with which he examines the patient’s eyes, and he is placing his left hand gently on the patient’s shoulder. In the back, there is a third person who appears to be ill and is waiting for the doctor to examine him. This third person is a bare-chested with the rest of his lower body covered in red clothes. There is also between the image of the saint and that person a small open cupboard containing about six red and green bottles, which confirms that the saint is a doctor who treats patients coming to him.The truth is that there are no clear inscriptions or letters which indicate the personality of the saint in the picture (the doctor), but it is believed that he is St. Markoltah, the famous Egyptian physician to heal eye diseases, who was also known to be with other famous saints such as Cosman and Damian, thus their pictures are next to each other in this place.
Three Saints in the Form of Knights
This painting is in the first chorus of the Suryan Church, towards the painting of St. Markoltah, the doctor. The image is represented on two parts of the wall showing three saints riding horses, one of them on the southern part of the wall (towards the east) while the other two saints are above the southern sanctuary of the church, and they face each other. These two saints, who are opposite to each other, are unknown because there is no writing to indicate their identity. They wear military clothes consisting of a blue dress and a red robe, that is, the ancient Greek soldier’s robe, and their faces look like military princes. The one standing on the right side holds a spear in his hand. The upper part of these two saints has been completely demolished, so the names of these two saints do not appear. As for the third saint, he has been identified, and he is on the northern side of the left window. Here we find this saint riding a horse, and at the bottom of the horse, there is a seated person, towards whom the saint’s spear is directed. There is a luminous halo around the saint’s head, but the features of the face are blurred. He wears a blue-green robe, and a red belt around his waist. As for the person sitting below the horse, there is a crown on his head, which indicates that he is not a saint, but rather one of the kings or emperors. Above this saint, there is an inscription written in Coptic representing the saint’s name, “Boctor”, but there is no writing explaining the identity of the king or emperor, and because of the saint’s identity, it has been concluded that he is the emperor Diocletian or Romanius. However, by referring to the story Saint Boctor, we found that these two emperors had nothing to do with him. Therefore, the biographies of the saints were searched and matched to the existing picture, according to the size of modern iconography. From here it was concluded that the name of the saint is Saint Mercurius Abi Seifen, and the person below him is the ungrateful Emperor Julian. As for the writing written above the saint’s head which indicates that he is Saint Boctor, it is not correct, and it is clear that the writing did not date from the time the painting was made, but it was written down at a later time. This painting dates back to the eighth century AD.
Saint James the Younger and another Saint Glorifying the Cross
A wonderful painting was revealed in the first chorus of the Suryan Church, although half of the total surface is missing. The picture represents two saints facing each other, and between them there is a golden cross of great beauty studded with jewels against a dark blue background surrounded by circles of varying colors with a black frame and red stars, which is also surrounded by a white circle, from which rays flow outward in a red color tending to orange, like the shape of fire. The upper right side of the image was lost, and the features of the right-hand saint do not appear. It seems that this disappearance occurred when the church was restored in the thirteenth century AD.
Despite that, the remains of a person wearing a blue dress and a red robe appear on the right, but the left person shows very clear in terms of drawing and colors, and his name is also written. This person is facing right, in the direction of the circle surrounding the golden cross, and his hands are stretched towards the cross in prayer, reverence, awe, admiration and joy and his name appears very clearly, represented in the Coptic language as St. James, the brother of God. We find his head surrounded by a luminous halo, and he is wearing a red dress and a blue robe, and his hand is raised to the right side, but the other saint is unknown.
Abgar, King of Edessa, and Constantine, The King
This painting was discovered in the first chorus of the Suryan Church, below the middle dome, after removing the plaster layer from this part in the 18th century. Many scenes were discovered that appeared imprisoned between three windows similar to the windows on the walls.Hence, two scenes were discovered under the middle dome, which dates back to the tenth century AD. The first scene represents King Abgar – King of Edessa, and Emperor Constantine the Great from among the windows of the upper region. It was possible to identify these drawings through the Syrian writings at the bottom of each panel. The right drawing shows the remains of a person on a black horse, and the horse is decorated with colors. As for the knight, nothing appears from him because his features were completely obliterated, but in the upper part, the person appears holding a spear, and we can infer from that he is an ancient warrior. Above the person in the sky, there are semi-circular shapes decorated with stars, and inside these circles, there is the shape of the cross that radiates light. The Syrian writing that lies at the bottom of the cross explains that this is the king who saw the sign of the cross in the sky and believed in Christ. This clearly indicates that it is the vision that King Constantine the Great had. As for the space between the windows on the left side, we find the remains of a painting that shows the shape of a piece of cloth, on which appear part of a head surrounded by a luminous halo. The signs in the painting and the iconography of the scene indicate that it represents King Abgar, and the writing present at the bottom of the painting explains this by saying that the icon, meaning the picture, was sent to him. One of the stories inherited by the ancients is that King Abgar was a long time ago, and that he had been cured from an incurable disease after he received the piece of cloth on which the face of the Lord Christ was printed.
Fresco of the Departure of The Virgin Mary
Below the existing paintings of the two kings, Abgar and Constantine, and above the door of the main sanctuary, a second painting was revealed which embodies the departure of the Virgin Mary (Coptic art), which is represented in more than one stage: the ascension of the body of the Virgin Mary to Heaven, and the Lord Christ and the Virgin Mary sitting on the throne. There are remains of other pictures indicating the departure of the Virgin. The thin layer of plaster contains drawings of lamentations. On the far left there is a representation of the departure of the Virgin Mary, where the Virgin lies on a bed surrounded by the twelve disciples lined up in two rows around the bed. There are also about six women, three women in each row. These women are called the virgins without specific names. At the back of the bed there is a large creature with wings, most likely the angel Michael, as some letters from his name appear. It is also known that the angel Michael is the one who accompanies the soul of the departed, and he is shown here standing as if he wants to receive the spirit of Virgin Mary.At the far right, there is a drawing of a group of people looking with great amazement, and at the upper edge, there are some Coptic inscriptions. This scene, which represents the ascension of the body of Virgin Mary, is considered one of the oldest frescoes of the departure of the Virgin Mary, dating back to the tenth century. There is a drawing in the middle of Christ holding the left hand of the Virgin Mary and raising it, which symbolizes of the dignity of the Virgin and her sitting at His right. On the left side of the Virgin Mary’s hand there is a drawing of the sun while the moon is on the right side of Christ’s head, and this scene expresses the ascension of the body of Virgin Mary to Heaven and the reception of Christ for her pure body and soul.
Saint Philip and the Eunuch of Abyssinia
This painting appears in the first chorus of the Suryan Church, under the dome, and as we have previously explained, it is next to the painting of King Constantine and King Abgar, where there are three windows in the wall from the southern side.The right window is not present now, but between the left window and the right window on the southern part of the wall there is a painting of a shaved man without a beard sitting on a chariot with two wheels and carrying a Coptic inscription representing the book of Isaiah. There is another writing on the right of this person, meaning the black man from Kandakkah, and this drawing represents the story of preaching to the Abyssinian eunuch, the minister of Candace, Queen of Abyssinia, by St. Philip and his conversion to Christianity. This story is recorded in the book of (Acts 8: 25-36). The first scene from the story represents the meeting between St. Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch who was riding on a chariot, met with Saint Philip, went up with him, and sat and read in the book of Isaiah the prophet. It shows the hand of St. Philip being raised indicating his speech. As for the second scene, it is located on the same wall at the same level between the middle and the right windows. This scene dates back to the tenth century, and it shows the conversion of some people to Christianity, such as the Ethiopian eunuch who believed through the preaching of Saint Philip the Apostle.
Saint Andrew the Apostle and Cannibals (dog-headed people)
In the lower side between the left and middle windows in the first chorus of the Suryan Church, there is a painting that seems confusing at first sight. A standing man with grey hair addresses five people with dog heads. This scene can be identified as St. Andrew preaching in a country inhabited by cannibals.Between the middle and right window, there is another scene of baptism, in which the same man as in the previous scene, Saint Andrew, baptizes two cannibals, and their faces have changed into two human faces. It is believed that the purpose of this scene is to show St. Andrew’s holistic service among the pagans, who have turned away from their savage nature after their baptism.
Saint Gregory the Enlightener
In the first chorus of the Suryan Church, between the two open windows under the dome, from the northern side, we see a person’s shoulder and part of his luminous halo, and the inscription on the right side of this figure was completely preserved. It reads as Saint Gregory the Armenian and Saint Gregory the enlightener. Since he was very well known for preaching Christianity in Armenia, we can consider the remains of this scene as a counterpart to the scenes on the opposite wall, since their subject matter is related to preaching the faith, evangelism, and baptism.
Coptic Crosses and Motifs
To the right of the right window, and to the left of the left window under the dome in the corner of the chorus, the remains of four crosses are found, and these crosses are different in shape, painted using mainly red and green colors and surrounded by a red color frame that has a row of white dots and black lines.There are also some Coptic motifs on top of the Syrian Annunciation and Nativity frescoes. There is also a drawing of two crosses to the right and left of the dome, and below them there is a drawing of a peacock showing only the tail. It is noted that the peacock in Christian art refers to eternity.
In the middle of the northern wall in the first chorus of the Suryan Church, we find inscriptions representing a standing patriarch having a young man’s face with a dark beard. He is dressed in priestly clothes, having a red cloth hanging over his hands, and he holds a book in his hands. On both sides of this person there are architectural representations: on the left side there is a building in the shape of a tower, which could represent a church, with a staircase next to it leading to the first floor of this building, and on the right side there is a building surrounded by a gated wall. The meaning of these two buildings is not clear to this day.
The identification of this person faces other problems as well, as there is unclear writing next to his head, but the way he holds the book in front of him with the existence a red robe on his hands reminds us of the icon of St. Mark from the sixth or seventh century that is currently in Paris. By looking at his garments full details, we can conclude that it is a patriarch’s robe, and his young features as well make us believe that he is Damianos, the 35th Patriarch of Alexandria (578 AD – 605 AD), who was ordained at a relatively young age. It is believed that there is a relationship between him and the image of St. Pisanti who was ordained by the hand of Patriarch Damianos. The latter was from a Syrian origin.
The Funeral Commemoration Stone
In the first chorus on the western wall, from the northern side, we find an old marble slab that was brought by the monks of the monastery of Saint Anba Yahnnis Kama from his monastery when it was destroyed. It is considered to be the commemoration stone of the departure of St. Anba Yahnnis Kama, and it contains 23 lines, with the following content:
“In the name of the Holy Trinity, equal in essence, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The departure of our blessed father, Anba Yahnnis Kama, occured on the twenty-fourth day of the month of Kiahk, at the first hour of the night of the twenty-fifth day, during the presidency of Anba Cosman, Archbishop of Alexandria, and the management of our father Abram of the church of our holy father Abba Yahnnis. Ten months after the departure of our holy father, as God pleased, my father, Father Stephanos, departed on the ninth day of the month of Hatour. This father became a spiritual son to him (Anba Yahnnis Kama), and in the same year both of them departed, in the peace of God, Amen, and that was in the year 575 of the martyrs under the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen” (859 AD).On the circle of the same stone came this phrase: “We ask, remember our blessed father, who belonged to the Lord Jesus Christ, in order to repose his blessed soul. Amen, Amen.”