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E02872: Burial chamber under a triconch chapel, by the monastery of Apa *Shenoute (abbot of the White Monastery near Sohag in Upper Egypt, ob. 465), with an image of Shenoute standing next to an angel and other figures; later 5th to 7th c. Perhaps the burial chamber of Shenoute.

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posted on 2017-06-01, 00:00 authored by dlambert
The Northern wall of a decorated underground burial vault shows a row of at least three standing figures. The caption above one of the figures has remained intact and reads: ⲁⲃⲃⲁ ⲥⲉⲛⲟⲩⲑⲓⲟⲩ ⲁⲣⲭⲏⲙⲁⲛⲇⲣⲓⲧⲟⲩ, 'Abba Shenoute the archimandrite'.

The same caption can be found above an image of Shenoute on the north lobe of the triconch apse in the church of the Red Monastery, dated to the 6th century: + ⲁⲃⲃⲁ ⲥⲉⲛⲟⲩⲑⲟⲩ ⲁⲣⲭⲏⲙⲁⲛⲇⲣ(ⲓⲧⲟⲩ).

Unlike the image in the church of the Red Monastery, the figure of Shenoute on the wall of the vault at the White Monastery is not depicted alone. Standing next to Shenoute is the figure of an angel with parts of one wing still visible. Whether one is to expect Gabriel or Michael here, either name would likely feature the term ὁ ἀρχάγγελος or ⲡⲁⲣⲭⲁⲅⲅⲉⲗⲟⲥ ‘the archangel’ with it; indeed a final omicron and sigma, which would fit these epithets, survive above the figure standing to the left of Shenoute. A typical example of such a caption is found in the church of the Red Monastery, where an image of the archangel Michael, ascribed to phase 3 and dated ca. 550–600, has the caption: + ⲙⲓⲭⲁⲏ<ⲗ> ⲡⲁⲣⲭⲁⲅⲅⲉⲗⲟⲥ, ('Michael the archangel.')

Shenoute himself is depicted with a square halo and brown hair, identifying the young and living Shenoute. In contrast, his image on the wall of the Red Monastery shows Shenoute with white hair, a long white beard, and the round halo, portraying the deceased former abbot in old age.

A triconch chapel is located above the burial chamber, situated in the immediate vicinity of the former monastic cemetery. Wall paintings have also been found on what little remains standing of this triconch chapel, though no figures with inscriptions were among them. It is a reasonable assumption that this chapel was built for cultic purposes related to the burial chamber below.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Shenoute, abbot of the White Monastery near Akhmim/Panopolis (Upper Egypt), ob. c. 465. : S00688 Michael, the Archangel : S00181

Saint Name in Source

ⲁⲃⲃⲁ ⲥⲉⲛⲟⲩⲑⲓⲟⲩ ⲁⲣⲭⲏⲙⲁⲛⲇⲣⲓⲧⲟⲩ [ⲙⲓⲭⲁⲏⲗ ⲡⲁⲣⲭⲁⲅⲅⲉⲗ]ⲟⲥ

Type of Evidence

Inscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.) Images and objects - Images described in texts Inscriptions - Inscribed architectural elements


  • 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)

Sohag Hermopolis ϣⲙⲟⲩⲛ Ashmunein Hermopolis

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - monastic


The final -ος that precedes the name of Shenoute on this fresco has been interpreted by Bolman, Davis and Pyke (2010) as the last two letters of [ὁ τόπ]ος ‘the tomb’, thereby identifying this chamber as the tomb of Shenoute [ὁ τόπ]ος ⲁⲃⲃⲁ ⲥⲉⲛⲟⲩⲑⲓⲟⲩ ⲁⲣⲭⲏⲙⲁⲛⲇⲣⲓⲧⲟⲩ, ‘[the tomb] of Abba Shenoute the Archimandrite’, which they date to shortly after his death in c. 465, suggesting immediate cult attached to the body of the great abbot, particularly if the church above (with its altar set almost directly on top of the tomb) was also later 5th century in date. We are much less certain of this interpretation and dating. As argued above, we think it much more likely that the two letters are from the end of a word identifying the neighbouring figure as an archangel, which renders the interpretation of this tomb as that of Shenoute much less certain. Was it perhaps a communal tomb of abbots or donors, buried under the protection of an image of Shenoute with archangels? And need the dating be later 5th century: could this not be a tomb, and covering church, of the 6th, or even early 7th century? Certainly, identifying this tomb as the original tomb of Shenoute, with contemporary shrine above, would be problematic. It would suggest immediate cult associated with the body of Shenoute, who, in line with Athanasius and other influential figures, like Antony and Pachomius, was overtly averse to the idea of a special burial much less a burial cult. That Shenoute’s compliant successor Besa, known through his own letters and sermons to have actively preserved and maintained the memory and rule of his strong-willed predecessor, would, immediately upon Shenoute’s death, have an elaborate burial chamber and shrine constructed for him (against his expressed wishes), seems unlikely.


Bolman, E.S., Davis, S.J., and Pyke, G., "Shenoute and a Recently Discovered Tomb Chapel at the White Monastery," Journal of Early Christian Studies 18 (2010), 453–462. Bolman, E.S., The Red Monastery Church: Beauty and Asceticism in Upper Egypt (New Haven, 2016), 139. Kuhn, K.H., Letters and Sermons of Besa, CSCO vol. 157 (text) and CSCO vol. 158 (trans.) (Leuven, 1956).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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