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Locations of Monastic Settlements near Alexandria

It was to Alexandria that the apostle Mark came as the evangelist of the new religion. It was here that he preached and made his first converts; here that he became the first bishop of the Egyptian Church; was martyred...;and was commemorated in a cathedral bearing his name. Alexandria, therefore, is the Rome of the Copts...James Wellard...Desert Pilgrimage
We deal here exclusively with hermits. There were also cenobites in the desert--cenobites by the hundred and by the thousand, living the "common life" in enormous monasteries like the one founded by St. Pachomius at Tabenna. Among these there was social order, almost military discipline. Nevertheless the spirit was still very much a spirit of personalism and freedom, because even the cenobite knew that his Rule was only an exterior framework, a kind of scaffolding with which he was to help himself build the spiritual structure of his own life with God....Thomas Merton...The Wisdom of the Desert
The communities of NITRIA (ca. 330), KELLIA (ca. 338), and SCETIS (ca 330), south of Alexandria.

The site of Antony’s fort on the Nile and his hermitage on the Red Sea (ca. 313)

Pachomius’ Nile-side foundations in the Thebaid (ca. 320): completely cenobitic, modelled on the Imperial army
(Source: Monks and Nuns of the Egyptian Desert)
Excerpts from
De Vitis Patrum, Book II
By Rufinus of Aquileia

Chapter XXI

We arrived at Nitria, that most famous place among all the monasteries of Egypt, about forty miles from Alexandria. It takes its name from the nearby village where natron [native sesquicarbonate of soda, or soap] is produced. The name of Nitria, by the foresight of divine providence, I believe, carries with it the idea that however sordid the sins of men they could be cleansed and washed away in this place as if by natron. Here, there are not much fewer than fifty dwellings near each other under the rule of a single father. Some have many occupants, some just a few, quite a lot only one, but although their dwellings are all separate, nevertheless they are all inseparably joined in faith and charity.
As we approached the place they sensed that pilgrim brothers were drawing near, and immediately like a swarm of bees they all rushed out of their cells and came to meet us, vying with each other in the happiness and hastiness of their approach. Several of them carried with them jugs of water and bread, for the prophet had rebuked some people saying; "You did not go out to meet the children of Israel in the way with bread and water" (2 Esdras.13). So, having greeted us, they first of all took us to the church, singing psalms, then washed our feet, with each one of them wiping our feet with the strips of linen which they use, ostensibly to lighten the labour of our journey, but in reality embodying the mystical tradition of bringing balm to the troubles of human life.
What can I say now about their humanity, their work, their charity, since all of them beckoned us towards their own cells, not only fulfilling the obligation of hospitality, but also showing us the humility and gentleness and other virtues of this sort which are learned by people thus separated from the world. Their gifts of grace were various, the doctrine [by which they lived] was one and the same for all. Nowhere else had we seen such charity flourishing, nowhere such acts of compassion and eager hospitality, nowhere else such knowledge and thoughts about the divine Scriptures, nowhere else so many methods of gaining knowledge of the divine (scientiae divinae tanta exercitia), that you might well believe that nearly every one of them was an expert in divine wisdom.
The ancient monastic site of NITRIA (...a flat desert promontory extending northwards into the Delta, fourty miles south of Alexandria near a branch of the Nile. It takes it name from the natron collected there...) was founded by Amoun in 330.

Kellia, also called The Cells, was founded by Amoun in 338, about six miles south of Nitria. According to legend, Amoun founded this hermit colony on the advice and with with the assistance of Antony. The purpose of Kellia was to provide a site near Nitria for monks who desired greater solitude
(Source: Monks and Nuns of the Egyptian Desert)
Excerpts from
De Vitis Patrum, Book II
By Rufinus of Aquileia

Chapter XXII

There is another place about ten miles further on into the desert called Cellia, because of the number of cells scattered about in the wilderness. To this place, having first been taught in the Thebaid, fled those who wished to cast all care aside and live a more secluded life. In this empty desert there was so much space between each of the cells that none of them could either see or hear each other. Living one to a cell there is a great silence and quietness among them. Only on Saturdays and Sundays do they come together in church, where it seems to them as if they are restored to heaven. If anyone is missing they realise that he is prevented by some bodily ailment, and each one visits with something of his own which might be welcome to one who is sick - not all at once, but they all take turns. There is no other reason for anyone to dare break into the silence of his neighbour, unless it might be for someone to be able to give a word of instruction, and like athletes in the arena anoint each other with the oil of a consoling word. Some of them come from three or four miles away from the church, so spaced out are their cells from each other. But so great is the charity among them, and so thoughtful are they for each other and for all the brothers, that they are held in admiration and as an example for all. As soon as they know that anyone else wants to come a live with them, each of them is quite willing to offer his own cell.
Typical 6th c. mud- brick Hermitage at Kellia, (accom.1-3 monks)
(Source: Monks and Nuns of the Egyptian Desert)
Looking North from Scetis
(Source: Monks and Nuns of the Egyptian Desert)
Scetis, in the Wadi Natrun valley, was founded in 330 by Macarius the Egyptian.
Monastic life still flourishes in the communities of:
(1) Baramus (the Romans); (2) the Syrian Monastery;(3) St. Bishoi (Pshoi); and(4) St. Macarius.
(Source: Monks and Nuns of the Egyptian Desert)
Excerpts from: Encyclopedia of Monasticism...William M. Johnston

The golden age of Nitria and Scetis lasted less than a century. Those first decades produced the monks and sayings that still occupy a central place in monastic spirituality. Theological, ideological, and ecclesiastical rifts eventually divided the monks like everyone else. Nitria-Kellia and to a lesser extent Scetis were split at the end of the fourth century by a controversy over teachings associated with Origen (c. 185-254) that led to the departure of some of the most famous monks for Palestine and Constantinople. Like the Egyptian Church as a whole, the monks were divided after the Council of Chalcedon (451) into opposing factions.

Prior to The Council of Chalcedon (451), monasteries were largely autonomous from church doctrine and authority. However the Council in 451 gave bishops jurisdiction, authority, and control over all monasteries, their founding, supervision, fiscal issues (even to the extent of imposing taxes), and church doctrine within his diocese.

Meanwhile marauding raiders devastated Scetis three times in the first half of the fifth century. During the Islamic period (after 640), the process of attrition that affected the entire Christian East eroded the monasteries as well. Perhaps already in the ninth century, Nitria-Kellia had been abandoned, and the population of Scetis, gathered into a few monasteries, dwindled slowly in the following centuries into a handful. In the second half of the 20th century, an unexpected explosion of recruits to the four surviving monasteries made them centers of theological and cultural activity for the Coptic minority of Egypt.
De Vitis Patrum, Book II By Rufinus of Aquileia: EPILOGUE (cf. VIII. 151) The dangers of journeying to the deserts
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