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E00144: Coptic Stories of the Monks of the Desert, attributed in the text to Paphnouthios, possibly Paphnouthios of Scetis, 4th c., which describe the lives and miracles of two bishops of Philae in Upper Egypt, *Makedonios and *Pselousias (S00135)) and of Apa *Aaron (anchorite in the region of Philae, S00088). Date of composition uncertain, certainly before the end of the 10th c.

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posted on 2014-11-03, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Stories of the Monks of the Desert (summary)

The narrative lacks the first folio (i.e. two pages of text), so that any title or introduction is missing. Papnouthios is on a journey in Upper Egypt and the islands of the First Cataract. The narrative seems to be composed in three parts:

In the first part (fol. 1a–11b), Papnouthios meets the monk Apa Pseleusios who relates his own journeys into the inner desert and whom he met there, namely: Apa Zaboulon, Apa John, monks of Aswan, Apa Zacchaios, Apa Sarapamon, Apa Matthaios, Apa Anianos, Apa Paulos, and Apa Banouphiel.

The second part (fol. 11b–37a) forms a history of the Bishops of Philae, from the see’s foundation to the death of bishop *Pseleusias (who is different from the monk Pseleusius). The monk Pseleusius also relates the life of Apa Isaac who lived on an island in the cataract, four miles south of Pseleusios’ monastery. Pseleusios and Papnouthios go together to visit Apa Isaac who gives them the account of the bishops of Philae, starting with Apa *Makedonios. Numerous miraculous events are described, all taking place at the hands and during the lifetime of the holy men described below.

Through bishop Apa Makedonios, the first bishop of Philae, a camel’s broken leg is healed (Fol. 19a–b) to settle a dispute between two Nubian camel owners. Apa Makedonios doesn’t perform the miracle himself out of piety, but arranges the healing through his deacon Isaiah using holy water sprinkled over the broken leg and the invocation of the Holy Trinity.

Apa Makedonios also punishes an old women gossiping by causing her tongue to become stiff (Fol. 14b–15a) and later on heals her from it again (Fol. 22b).

Also bishop Apa Pselousias brings about a miracle. Feeling too humble to join the service in the baptistery at Alexandria performed by the archbishop, when he is ordered in, he prays with them and immediately the baptismal font starts to boil like a bronze cauldron being red-hot, as a sign of his purity (Fol. 36b–37a).

The third and longest part of the narrative (fol. 37v–56r) is concerned with the Life and Deeds of Apa Aaron. Apa Isaac had been a disciple not only of Apa Makedonios the first bishop of Philae, but also of Apa Aaron and thus continues to narrate the life of the latter to his visitor, which includes many miracles performed by Apa *Aaron during his lifetime.

1. The miracle of the Nubian’s son (Fol. 42a–43a): a boy snatched and carried away by a crocodile is brought back unharmed.

2. The miracle of the fisherman’s son (Fol. 43a–b): a drowned boy is brought back unharmed.

3. The miraculous healing of a man who fell off a fruit tree (Fol. 43b–44b): brought back to life by an invocation of Christ and sprinkling water over him.

4. The miracle of a stillborn baby (Fol. 44b–45b): His father gathers dust from the doorway of Apa *Aaron and sprinkles it over his stillborn son who awakes immediately and lives.

5. Resolving the conflict between a rich man and a poor one who owes him money (Fol. 45b–48b): by punishing the rich man with blindness until he releases the poor man from his debt.

6. The miraculous healing of a man’s legs suffering from gout (Fol. 48b–49a): by letting the hand of the rich man (of miracle 5), whom Apa Aaron had touched, touch the afflicted legs.

7. The miracle of the donkey (Fol. 49a): after the donkey died, Apa Aaron tells the owner to hit the animal thrice with a stick whereupon the donkey rises and lives.

8. The miracle of the vineyard (Fol. 49b): a man bought some rope from Apa Aaron which he made and when he had bound it around his meagre vines, he experienced an exceedingly rich harvest.

9. The miracle of the fish (Fol. 49b–50b): some fishermen beg Apa Aaron for help as they are pressed for a large delivery of fish, but their nets are empty. The holy man’s prayer and some water sprinkled on their nets brings about a great catch.

10. The miracle of saving a man’s ship and cargo after he prayed to Apa Aaron (Fol. 51a).

11. The miracle of the man with a blind eye (Fol. 51a–b): Apa Aaron causes a Nubian man’s blind eye to see.

12. The miracle of childbirth (Fol. 51b–52b): Apa Aaron prays for a barren women to receive a son, which she does.

13. The miracle of a man possessed by a demon (Fol. 52b–53b): Apa Aaron heals him by means of the invocation to the Holy Trinity and by sprinkling water into the man’s face three times.

14. The miracle of the Nile (Fol. 53b–54a): when the yearly flood had not risen to reach all the fields, those affected by the drought came to Apa Aaron and asked for help. He prayed and cried and thus God had compassion to raise the Nile water to flow over all the land.

15. The second miracle of the Nile (Fol. 54a–55b): the yearly Nile flood is brought up to its proper measure, after the prayers of Apa Aaron.

16. The blessing of a poor man to bake bread for his children (Fol. 56a): a man has his sack of barley blessed and sprinkled with water by Apa Aaron to bake good bread.

The narrative ends with the death of Apa Aaron on the 9th of the month Pashons (4 May).

Apa Aaron is buried next to the bishops of Philae, Apa Makedonios, Apa Mark, and Apa Isaiah. Papnouthios thanks and blesses his informant Apa Isaac for telling him about the lives of these holy men, and announces his intention to write them all down as authoritative models for future generations (Fol. 56b).

Summary: Gesa Schenke


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Paphnoutios : S00063 Aaron, the Anchorite : S00088 Makedonios and Pselousias (bishops of Philae, 4th century) : S00135

Saint Name in Source

ⲁⲡⲁ ⲡⲁⲡⲛⲟⲩⲧⲉ ϩⲁⲣⲱⲛ ⲁⲡⲁ ⲙⲁⲕⲉⲇⲱⲛⲓⲟⲥ, ⲁⲡⲁ ⲡⲥⲉⲗⲟⲩⲥⲓⲁⲥ

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Monastic collections (apophthegmata, etc.) Literary - Hagiographical - Other saint-related texts Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)


  • Coptic

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Egypt and Cyrenaica Egypt and Cyrenaica Egypt and Cyrenaica

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Edfu Esna Philae

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Edfu Hermopolis ϣⲙⲟⲩⲛ Ashmunein Hermopolis Esna Hermopolis ϣⲙⲟⲩⲛ Ashmunein Hermopolis Philae Hermopolis ϣⲙⲟⲩⲛ Ashmunein Hermopolis

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracle with animals and plants Healing diseases and disabilities Punishing miracle Specialised miracle-working Power over life and death Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather) Power over objects Miraculous power through intermediary

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives


Cult Activities - Relics

Contact relic - other object closely associated with saint Bodily relic - arm/hand/finger Contact relic - dust/sand/earth


B.M. Or. 7029, Fol. 1a–57a, ed. E. A. W. Budge, ‘The Histories of the Monks in the Egyptian Desert by Paphnutius,’ Coptic Texts, V: Miscellaneous Coptic Texts (London: 1915), 432–495. This is so far the only surviving copy of the narrative. The date of the manuscript production as part of a paper codex is assumed to be the year 982 or 992. Colophons within the codex mention a donation to the topos of Apa Haron (Aaron) in Tbo (Edfu), but also a deacon of (the church or monastery) of Saint Merkourios in Sne (Esna).


Stories of the Monks of the Desert seems to be similar to Life of Onnophrios, the Anchorite in many respects, hence the frequent ascription of both texts to the same Paphnoutios. The narrator of the text visits monks in the desert and inquires about their reason for coming there and their method of survival. Each one refers to the next, so that separate stories become interwoven. The narrative describes events in the desert in Upper Egypt which seems to be a far more populated place than that of the trip into the desert entitled Life of Onnophrios, the Anchorite. The largest part of the narrative is concerned with The Life and Deeds of Apa Aaron, the anchorite, living in the desert to the east of Philae, which might have been the title given to the narrative as a whole (just as in Life of Onnophrios, the Anchorite). Immediately following The Life and Deeds of Apa Aaron in the codex, are the passages of Scripture used for reading out on the feast of Apa Aaron (ⲡϣⲁ ⲛⲁⲡⲁ ϩⲁⲣⲱⲛ) (fol. 57a–61a), for which the day is not specified, possibly because it is was clear that the date in question is that of his death mentioned at the end of the preceding text, i.e. 9 Pashons (4 May). Even though the only known Coptic manuscript dates to the late 10th century, the composition of these stories is clearly much older and, with respect to similarities with the Life of Onnophrios, the Anchorite for which copies of the 6/7th century exist, inspire confidence in assuming at least a 6th century date for the composition. Coquin 1991, 1883, regards the Papnouthios to whom the Stories of the Monks of the Desert is attributed as a different person from the one associated with Life of Onnophrios, the Anchorite.


Edition Budge, E.A.W, ‘The Histories of the Monks in the Egyptian Desert by Paphnutius,’ Coptic Texts, V: Miscellaneous Coptic Texts (London: British Museum, 1915), 432–495. Translation: Vivian, T., Paphnutius: Histories of the Monks of Upper Egypt and the Life of Onnophrius (Cistercian Studies 140; Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1993), 17–141. Further reading: Budge, E.A.W., Coptic Texts, V: Miscellaneous Coptic Texts (London: British Museum, 1915), cxliv– clvi (Introduction). Coquin, R.-G., Coptic Encyclopedia, vol. 6 (1991), 1883. Layton, B., Catalogue of Coptic Literary Manuscripts in the British Library (London: British Library, 1987), entry 163, pp. 196–199, with additional fragments listed as entry 150 on pp. 172–173. O’Leary, De L., The Saints of Egypt (London: SPCK, 1937), 219–220. For a full range of the documentary evidence on Papnouthios: Papaconstantinou, A., Le culte des saints en Égypte des Byzantins aux Abbassides (Paris: CNRS, 2001), 165–168.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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