WADI NATRUN Coptic Monasteries
Wadi Natrun was of great importance to ancient Egyptians for its natron, used in the mummification proces. The narrow wadi (dry river bed) traps rainwater from desert storms. When this moisture evaporates, it draws salts to the surface.
Wadi Natrun is believed to be one of the places the Holy Family visited while they sought refuge in Egypt.
Early anchorites inhabited caves around the valley and even now, hermit monks live in caves. The desert has long been the protector of the faith. It was there that thousands of Christians retreated to escape Roman persecution in the 4th century. They built monasteries and developed the monastic tradition that was later adopted by European Christians. Eventually 60 monasteries were scattered over the valley, of which today only four remain. All four monasteries were ruined and rebuilt at least once since their foundation during the fourth century. Each monastery has a high wall surrounding one or more churches, a central keep entered via a drawbridge, containing a bakery, storerooms and wells, and associated chapels.
Monasticism is experiencing a revival and many of the younger monks and novices are qualified engineers or scientists. The black garments symbolize their death to the world of bodily desires, their hoods are embroied with twelve crosses, after Christ's disciples. The Coptic pope is chosen from among the Wadi Natrun monks.
Beside their solitude and serenity, the monasteries are worth visiting for its superb Coptic art.