A Coptic Monastery at Aswan

Tombs of the Nobles, Aswan
Tombs of the Nobles, Aswan. Photo: TMK, May 2007.

Across the Nile from Aswan is an archaeological site known today as the “Princely Tombs” or “Tombs of the Nobles“. It is well worth the ferry ride, not least because of the beautiful views over the Nile, Elephantine, Aswan and the desert from the site. In 1998, debris was cleared in front of the Dynasty IV tomb of Khunes and a series of wall-paintings belonging to a Coptic monastery were revelead (Gabat 2002: 105-107). We do not know the name of the monastery, so it is today usually referred to under its Arabic name Qubbat al-Hawa.

Qubbat al-Hawa
Apsis of the Qubbat al-Hawa monastery church, Aswan, Egypt. Photo: TMK, May 2007.

The wall-paintings probably date to the 11th or 12th century, as a terminus ante quem is provided by a Coptic text that gives a date of AD 1180. In the central scene of the apsis, Christ is shown in a mandorla, held by six angels (see close-up below the fold). In another scene, six saints are depicted, five of which have a square nimbus, showing that they were still alive when the paintings were made. The wall-paintings are covered by Coptic and Arabic writings that if studied properly could provide a wealth of information about the different uses of and responses to this Christian space.

Qubbat al-Hawa
Ruins of the monastery church. Photo: TMK, May 2007.

Qubbat al-Hawa
A close up of a group of saints. Photo: TMK, May 2007.

Qubbat al-Hawa

A close up of the apsis decoration. Photo: TMK, May 2007.

Gawdat Gabra. 2004. Coptic Monasteries. Egypt’s Monastic Art and Architecture. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press.

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