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E01093: Coptic account of miracles wrought through *Shenoute (S00688, abbot of the White Monastery near Sohag in the area of Panopolis (Upper Egypt), c. 348-465), (commonly referred to as the Life of Shenoute), ascribed to his disciple and successor Besa and intended to be presented on Shenoute's feast day, thus claimed to have been written in the 5th c, though most likely a compilation of various encomia produced not before the 7th c.

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posted on 2016-01-22, 00:00 authored by gschenke
Besa, The Miracles and Wonders of Shenoute, commonly referred to as the Life of Shenoute

This account claims to present merely a fraction of the miracles and wonders wrought through Apa Shenoute, the prophet (ed. Leipoldt 1 and 172). It is a liturgical text presented on Shenoute’s feast day for the benefit of those who will hear it.

Ed. Leipoldt 1:
ϩⲁⲛⲕⲟⲩϫⲓ ⲉⲃⲟⲗ ϧⲉⲛ ⲛⲓϫⲟⲙ ⲛⲉⲙ ⲛⲓϣⲫⲏⲣⲓ ⲉⲧⲁⲫϯⲁⲓⲧⲟⲩ ⲉⲃⲟⲗ ϩⲓⲧⲟⲧϥ ⲙⲡⲉⲛⲓⲱⲧ ⲉⲑⲟⲩⲁⲃ ⲙⲡⲣⲟⲫⲏⲧⲏⲥ ⲁⲡⲁ ϣⲉⲛⲟⲩϯ
ⲡⲓⲡⲣⲉⲥⲃⲩⲧⲉⲣⲟⲥ ⲟⲩⲟϩ ⲡⲓⲁⲣⲭⲓⲙⲁⲛⲇⲣⲓⲧⲏⲥ ⲉⲁϥϩⲩⲥⲧⲟⲣⲓⲛ ⲙⲙⲱⲟⲩ ⲛϫⲉ ⲫⲏ ⲉⲑⲟⲩⲁⲃ ⲁⲡⲁ ⲃⲏⲥⲁ ⲡⲉϥⲙⲁⲑⲏⲧⲏⲥ ⲉⲩⲱⲟⲩ ⲙⲫϯ ⲟⲩⲟϩ
ⲛⲟⲩⲟⲛ ⲛⲓⲃⲉⲛ ⲉⲑⲛⲁⲥⲱⲧⲉⲙ ⲉⲣⲱⲟⲩ ⲛⲥⲉϯⲱⲟⲩ ⲙⲫϯ ⲛⲥⲏⲟⲩ ⲛⲓⲃⲉⲛ ⲛϩⲟⲩⲟ ⲇⲉ ⲡⲓⲉϩⲟⲟⲩ ⲛⲧⲉ ⲡⲉϥⲉⲣⲫⲙⲉⲩⲓ ⲉⲑⲟⲩⲁⲁⲃ ⲉⲧⲉ ⲥⲟⲩ ⲍ
ⲙⲡⲓⲁⲃⲟⲧ ⲉⲡⲏⲡ ⲡⲉ ϧⲉⲛ ⲟⲩϩⲓⲣⲏⲛⲏ ⲛⲧⲉⲫϯ ⲁⲙⲏⲛ

'A few of the miracles and wonders which God wrought through our holy father, the prophet Apa Shenoute, the presbyter and archimandrite [abbot]. The holy Apa Besa, his disciple, related them for the glory of God and for the benefit of anyone who will hear of them and will glorify God at any time, but especially on the day of his holy remembrance which is the 7th day of the month Epiph. In peace of God. Amen.'

The account of miracles is presented as absolutely reliable and trustworthy, since it is in part an eyewitness report, and partly relying on the word of the abbot Shenoute, the miracle worker, himself.

Ed. Leipoldt 2:
ⲛⲁⲓ ⲉⲧⲁⲓⲛⲁⲩ ⲉⲣⲱⲟⲩ ϧⲉⲛ ⲛⲁⲃⲁⲗ ⲁⲛⲟⲕ ⲃⲏⲥⲁ ⲡⲉϥⲙⲁⲑⲏⲧⲏⲥ ⲛⲉⲙ ⲛⲓⲕⲉⲭⲱⲟⲩⲛⲓ ⲟⲛ ⲉⲧⲁⲡⲉⲛⲓⲱⲧ ⲉⲑⲟⲩⲁⲃ ⲁⲡⲁ ϣⲉⲛⲟⲩϯ ϫⲟⲧⲟⲩ
ⲉⲣⲟⲓ ϧⲉⲛ ⲡⲉϥⲣⲱϥ

'These (miracles and wonders) which I, Besa, his disciple, have seen with my own eyes and also those that our holy father Apa Shenoute has told me himself.'

It is also made explicit that it is Shenoute’s feast day on which the account is presented.

Ed. Leipoldt 2:
ⲡⲁⲓⲱⲧ ⲅⲁⲣ ⲁⲡⲁ ϣⲉⲛⲟⲩϯ ⲫⲁⲡⲓⲉⲣⲫⲙⲉⲩⲓ ⲉⲑⲛⲁⲛⲉϥ ⲫⲁⲓ ⲉⲧⲉⲛⲉⲣϣⲁⲓ ⲛⲁϥ ⲙⲫⲟⲟⲩ ⲟⲩϣⲟⲩⲥⲁϫⲓ ⲡⲉ ⲛⲛⲉϥϩⲃⲏⲟⲩⲓ ⲉⲑⲛⲁⲛⲉⲩ.

'Since my father Apa Shenoute, the one of good remembrance, this one whose feast we are celebrating today, is someone worthy of a narration of his good deeds.'

Summary/List of miracles:
The account begins with examples of miraculous behaviour already detectable in Shenoute as a young boy when he worked as an under shepherd to a man watching over his father’s sheep. When the young boy fails to come home at night, the main shepherd testifies that he saw Shenoute entering a cistern and praying while standing in the deep water with his hands stretched out, his ten fingers appearing like flaming lamps (ed. Leipoldt 4).

When his father took the young Shenoute along to the monastery of his uncle Apa Pjol to receive the abbot’s blessing, abbot Pjol asked for the young boy’s blessing instead, referring to him as “father” and “archimandrite” (ed. Leipoldt 5).

In the monastery of Apa Pjol was a man suffering from a daemon. The young boy Shenoute started to beat the demon inside the man, which cried out in fear and pain and left the man, who recovered his health immediately (ed. Leipoldt 6).

The first night the young Shenoute stayed in the monastery, abbot Apa Pjol had a vision of an angel guarding the sleeping boy. The angel instructed Apa Pjol to put the mantle which he would find in the morning onto the boy Shenoute, as it was the mantle of Elijah the Tishbite, which Jesus intended to hand over to Shenoute, since he would be the chosen one to build a monastery and be a strong protector of his community and everyone in need. Apa Pjol follows these instructions and makes Shenoute a monk (ed. Leipoldt 8).

When the boy Shenoute was out walking with Apa Pjol and Apa Pshoi (possibly the founder of the Red monastery), all three of them heard a voice from heaven proclaiming Shenoute to be appointed as archimandrite of the entire world (ed. Leipoldt 9).

The image created of Shenoute is one of excessive monastic labour and asceticism, continuous prayer, sleep deprivation, and perpetual fasting. He is described physically as little more than skin and bone, with black hollow eyes constantly watering (ed. Leipoldt 12).

He possessed the power of clairvoyance, which made him acutely aware of the sins committed all over the world. People coming to seek his blessing or advice would not be able to pretend, but proceeded to confess their sins readily to Shenoute, since he was already aware of them. Through this ability, Shenoute was able to announce a proper punishment for sinners, as well as the right course of action for the just (ed. Leipoldt 13–16; 33–35; 36–37; 42–52; 74–75; 80; 87; 98–101; 102; 109–114; 131–134; 144–150).

He also exercises power over evils, such as arrogance, magic, paganism, and violence, and causes immediate punishment for them (ed. Leipoldt 81–82; 83–84; 85–86; 88; 89; 125–127; 128–130; 151–153).

Twice Shenoute travels miraculously by cloud (ϭⲏⲡⲓ ⲛⲟⲩⲱⲓⲛⲓ), the first time, because on his return trip from the imperial court at Constantinople, where he had been discussing Nestorios, some lesser servants did not recognise who Shenoute was, and refused to let him board the ship with Cyril, the archbishop of Alexandria. Desperate to return to his monastery, Shenoute prayed to Christ and immediately a shining cloud appeared, taking him and his accompanying disciple up into the air to transport them home. When they had caught up with the ship sailing without them, archbishop Cyril looked up and saw Shenoute with his disciple passing them on a cloud, and asked him for a blessing, as the new Elijah (ed. Leipoldt 17–19). The second time Shenoute travels by cloud, the emperor Theodosius II, having heard much about the miracles wrought by this Egyptian man, insisted he should come and visit him at his royal residence. The emperor sends a very intimidating courier with an invitation and strict instructions not to return without Shenoute. The latter feeling too old, and preoccupied with more pressing matters at the monastery, refuses to visit the emperor abroad. The courier threatens Shenoute with arrest and forcible travel, so he prays in the sanctuary for a sign of what he should do. Immediately a shining cloud (ϭⲏⲡⲓ ⲛⲟⲩⲱⲓⲛⲓ) appears and picks him up to bring him to Constantinople. There he fulfils the emperor’s wish for a blessing, but refuses to stay longer at the royal court. Shenoute urges the emperor to write a message to his courier, which Shenoute would deliver, so that the courier would agree to return home. Afterwards, the cloud picks him up again and brings him safely back to his monastery. The courier is so impressed that he wishes to remain at the monastery of Shenoute as a monk, but Shenoute urges him to return with his soldiers to the emperor. He blesses him and sends him on his long journey back (ed. Leipoldt 53–67).

Shenoute possesses power over plants, water, stones, and animals. When he was visiting the imperial court, he found a single grain of wheat lying on the floor. He picked it up and took it home with him to the monastery. There he placed it under the millstone and it produced so much flour that the monks where unable to gather it all up. Only when Shenoute asked the millstone to stop grinding, did this miraculous production of flour end (ed. Leipoldt 17 and 20). When Shenoute wished to see a ship sail in the desert, the area was filled with water and the Lord as the captain, with the angels as sailors, sailed by where Shenoute stood in prayer. They asked him to tie the rope of the ship to a rock, and when Shenoute touched the rock, it yielded a hole through which the rope could be put (ed. Leipoldt 22–23). When a newly built well collapsed, Shenoute placed his palm branch into the wall of the well, and immediately the branch sprang roots and produced leaves and fruit. The workers ate and the well never collapsed again (ed. Leipoldt 24). During a drought, all the inhabitants of the area of Panopolis and Pshoi came to the monastery to be fed. When the monastery ran out of bread for the masses, Shenoute asked the monk who distributed the loaves to get whatever was left in stock. When nothing was left to eat or give, Shenoute asked his monks to pray for a blessing to feed the masses. When they returned to the storeroom, it was filled with such an abundance of bread that there was no shortage at all (ed. Leipoldt 27–28). More such bread miracles took place (ed. Leipoldt 140–143). When the bakers complained about too much ash from their eleven ovens, Shenoute said that he trusted in God and the prayers of the saints that if they put all the ash into one oven to dispose of it, the oven would never fill up, and indeed it did not (ed. Leipoldt 29). To punish the owners of vineyards who mistreated their farmers, Shenoute struck the soil and set the vineyards permanently under water (ed. Leipoldt 85–86). Lions bowed before Shenoute (ed. Leipoldt 135), and a camel was persuaded to offer milk to her calf (ed. Leipoldt 161). Shenoute also helped a farmer from Panopolis to grow seeds and make a profit from his fruit trees, the first fruits of which should regularly be donated to his monastery (ed. Leipoldt 162–171).

When Christ ordered Shenoute to build a sanctuary in his name, Shenoute indicated that he was short of funds. Christ pointed to a place where he would find the means to pay for the expenditure, a small leather bag full of gold coins lying in the desert. The workers could thus be paid to complete the building of the church (ed. Leipoldt 30–32).

Shenoute has many visions and conversations with Christ, and divine visits from the apostles (Paul); from Mary, the Mother, and from various prophets, through which mysteries are revealed to him (ed. Leipoldt 22; 25; 30; 32; 70–72; 91–92; 93; 94; 95; 96; 115–124; 138–140; 147; 154–160).

Shenoute also exercises healing powers (ed. Leipoldt 40–41) and provides divine nourishment for those in need (ed. Leipoldt 77–79).

Contact relics of Shenoute help the duke (dux) and the comes in battle against t


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Shenoute, abbot of the White Monastery near Akhmim/Panopolis (Upper Egypt), ob. c. 465. : S00688

Saint Name in Source

ⲁⲡⲁ ϣⲉⲛⲟⲩϯ

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Collections of miracles Literary - Hagiographical - Lives of saint


  • Coptic

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Egypt and Cyrenaica

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Panopolis Hermopolis ϣⲙⲟⲩⲛ Ashmunein Hermopolis

Major author/Major anonymous work

Besa, The Miracles and Wonders of Shenoute, commonly referred to as the Life of Shenoute

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Commemoration of miracle

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - monastic

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Oral transmission of saint-related stories

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracles experienced by the saint Punishing miracle Miracle with animals and plants Power over objects Healing diseases and disabilities Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Invisibility, bilocation, miraculous travels Miraculous sound, smell, light Exorcism Miraculous protection - of people and their property Juridical interventions

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Crowds Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Ecclesiastics - bishops Monarchs and their family Other lay individuals/ people Soldiers Merchants and artisans Relatives of the saint

Cult Activities - Relics

Contact relic - saint’s possession and clothes


A complete Bohairic early medieval manuscript of The Miracles and Wonders of Shenoute was found in the Monastery of St. Makarios at Wadi el-Natrun (Scetis) and is conserved in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana. The work must originally have been written in Sahidic, and twenty-six leaves of Sahidic text are known; the stories preserved in these fragments are very close to the versions in the Bohairic. They are conserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, the Biblioteca Nazionale in Naples, the Coptic Museum in Cairo, the British Library in London, and the Papyrus Collection of the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Vienna. These fragments of an earlier Sahidic version of the text belong to six fragmentary codices, at least four of which come from the White Monastery, in Upper Egypt. What has been called the Vita Sinuthii was also translated into Arabic, Syriac, and Ethiopic. In Arabic and Ethiopic, complete manuscripts survive. The Arabic version is more than twice as long as the Bohairic, including additional episodes and more details.


Contrary to the label Vita given to this text by its first editors, this is not a narrative of the life of Shenoute, but an account of the miracles occurring to or through Shenoute during the course of his life. The purpose of this account is to celebrate the glory of God and to edify the audience (ed. Leipoldt 1), which hears this account of selected miracles during the celebration of Shenoute’s feast day (ed. Leipoldt 1; 2). That this is only a small selection of miracles experienced by, or through, Shenoute is made explicit more than once (ed. Leipoldt 1; 2; 172); no claims are made of a complete presentation of the virtues of Shenoute. It is, however, claimed that the miracles presented here have truly been witnessed either by Besa himself, or have directly been related to him by Shenoute in person (ed. Leipoldt 2). Over fifty miraculous incidents are presented in this text. The types of miracles include divine visits paid to Shenoute, to power over the natural world (such as over seeds, plants, water and animals), air-travel by cloud from Alexandria back home, as well as a return trip to Constantinople to meet the emperor Theodosius II, a few healing miracles, and punishing miracles, reclaiming justice. The latter are mostly due to Shenoute’s clairvoyance which allows him to fully understand people’s motives and troubles when they come to ask for his advice and/or blessing. This ability accounts for the title 'prophet' given to him. Christ himself is a regular visitor whom Shenoute receives, but the prophets, Mary, and the apostle Paul also appear to him. Major monastic figures, such as *Antony, *Pachomios, and *Pshoi, as well as all the saints, attend his deathbed. The account of miracles ends with the death of Shenoute, and there is no evidence in this text or elsewhere testifying to posthumous miracles occurring at the White Monastery, contrary to the many miracle accounts known for martyr saints, who work similar miracles in or around their burial shrines and oratories dedicated to their name and memory, see e.g. the miracles of *Phoibammon (E00240), *Kollouthos (E00666, E00667, E00668) or *Merkurios (E01861). The description of Shenoute’s burial does not mention a secret reburial to keep the former abbot’s body hidden, in order to avoid a cult evolving around it. All it says is: ed. Leipoldt 189: ⲛⲁⲓ ⲇⲉ ⲉⲧⲁⲛⲥⲟⲑⲙⲟⲩ ⲁⲛⲓⲱⲥ ⲙⲙⲟⲛ ⲁⲛⲉⲣⲥⲕⲉⲡⲁⲍⲓⲛ ⲙⲡⲉϥⲥⲱⲙⲁ ⲉⲑⲟⲩⲁⲃ ⲁⲛϩⲓⲧϥ ⲉϧⲣⲏⲓ ⲉⲟⲩⲕⲁⲯⲁ ⲉⲥⲟⲓ ⲛⲭⲟⲗⲭⲟⲗ ⲟⲩⲟϩ ⲁⲛⲑⲟⲙⲥϥ ⲁⲛϩⲉⲙⲥⲓ ⲉⲛⲣⲓⲙⲓ ⲟⲩⲟϩ ⲉⲛⲟⲓ ⲛⲉⲙⲕⲁϩ ⲛϩⲏⲧ ⲉⲑⲃⲏⲧϥ ϫⲉ ⲁⲛⲉⲣϧⲁⲓⲉ ⲛⲟⲩⲛⲓϣϯ ⲛⲣⲉϥϯⲥⲃⲱ ⲉⲛⲁⲛⲉϥ 'Hearing these things, we made haste. We kissed [reading ⲁⲥⲡⲁⲍⲉⲥⲑⲉ with witness D] his holy body and wrapped it in a burial cloak [cappa]. We buried him and sat around weeping and being distressed over it, because we now lacked a great good teacher.' (trans. Gesa Schenke) Bell (1983, 189) translates: 'When we had heard these things, we quickly covered his holy body, laid it in an inlaid [?] chest, and buried him. We sat weeping and grieving at heart for him, for we had lost a great and good teacher.'


Edition: Leipoldt, J. (ed.), Sinuthii Archimandritae Vita et Opera Omnia (Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium 41: Scriptores Coptici 1; Paris, 1906). Translation: Bell, D.N. (trans.), Besa, The Life of Shenoute (Cistercian Studies 73; Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1983). Further reading: Grossmann, P., “Zum Grab des Schenute,” Journal of Coptic Studies 6 (2004), 83-103. Kuhn, K.H., “Shenute, Saint,” in: A.S. Atiya (ed.), The Coptic Encyclopedia (New York, 1991), vol. 7, 2131-2133. Leipoldt, J., Schenute von Atripe und die Entstehung des national ägyptischen Christentums (Leipzig, 1903). Lubomierski, N., Die Vita Sinuthii: Form- und Überlieferungsgeschichte der hagiographischen Texte über Schenute den Archimandriten (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007). Lubomierski, N., “The Coptic Life of Shenoute,” in: G. Gabra and H.N. Takla (eds.), Christianity and Monasticism in Upper Egypt: Vol. 1, Akhmim and Sohag (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2008), 91-97. O’Leary, De L., The Saints of Egypt (London, 1937), 251–255.

Continued Description

he barbarians. The duke visits Shenoute in his monastery, asking for advice as to whether to go into battle or not, and asks for a blessing from Shenoute and for one of his leather girdles (ⲙⲟϫϧ ⲛϣⲁⲣ) to protect him. The duke returns victorious. Likewise the comes makes his way south to request a blessing from Shenoute and his belt (ⲡⲉϥϧⲱⲕ), before going into battle and returning victorious (ed. Leipoldt 103–108; 135–137).Prior to his death, Shenoute sees the patriarchs, the prophets, the apostles, the archbishops and archimandrites, and all the saints arriving. He calls out the names of Apa Pshoi (possible founder of the Red monastery), Apa Antony, and Apa Pachomios to take his hand, so that he could rise to worship the Lord. At that moment, there was a sweet fragrance, and his soul was given into the hands of God on the 7th day of Epiph (1st July), sweet voices were audible crying over the body and uttering hymns, psalms, and songs (ed. Leipoldt 184–187). Text: Leipoldt 1906. Summary and translations: Gesa Schenke.

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