In a post last month, I mentioned my emerging interest in pilgrimage, especially from as seen from the perspective of material and visual culture. This interest stems, at least in part, from visits to sites that are still frequented by worshippers. The Coptic monastery at Abu Mina, 45 km southwest of Alexandria, is one such site. Many visitors on the way to the archaeological site of Abu Mina, one of the most spectacular early Christian sites in the Mediterranean, stop by the modern monastery (the monastery’s official website is in Arabic only). Architecturally it may not live up to everyone’s expectations of an “authentic” Coptic monastery, but the life that its clergy and patrons bring more than makes up for it. Their activities can be only be imagined when visiting the archaeological site.
Interior shot of the new Cathedral of St Menas that holds his relics. Photo: TMK, May 2008.
The new monastery has many of the facilities that the ancient pilgrimage site would have had. It has several very large dining halls and dormitoria for visitors. The “secondary” activities that we imagine taking place in sanctuaries, such as trade and industry, can also be observed. During my visit, I was, for example, very surprised to find that the monks now market their own series of household products!