Dayr Abu Matta, Dayr al-Malak and Muzawwaqa


Dayr Abu Matta

The small monastic settlement known today as Dayr Abu Matta is located in central Dakhleh Oasis, Egypt. The ruins can be seen from the left-hand side of the main Mut/Qasr road about two kilometres beyond the modern village of Rashda, as one drives towards Qasr. The standing remains include a monastic keep/tower surrounded by buildings, presumably associated with the monastery, a triconch church to its east, and structures, perhaps of a domestic nature, to the north of the church and south of the keep. At some point after the site was abandoned, graves were cut into and around the church and in two rooms within the monastery. The extent of the site is uncertain as a section of the mound on which the monastery stands has been cut into by local farmers and removed for fertiliser, a practice all too common in the past on antiquities sites in Egypt.  Moreover, cultivation has encroached on its north, with the remnants of walls now under the modern fields, and a canal has been cut to the west side of the main road that would have destroyed any evidence of structures east of the church.

The site was visited and described by Herbert Winlock when he visited Dakhleh in 1908; he produced two photographs of the ruins of the church, which are now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1979/80 the site was surveyed by members of the Dakhleh Oasis Project, during which visible structures were planned and a small test excavation was undertaken. The monastic keep and the church are of particular interest as no other monastery had been identified in Dakhleh and the sanctuary of the church, which comprises a triple apse (triconch), is was one of only five or six known triconches in Egypt and the only one of its kind in Dakhleh.

Monash has worked in various areas of the site from 2008 to 2012. The aims of the research project are to study the development of early church architecture, and Christian burial practices in Dakhleh at a time when religious practices were somewhat fluid. The church is now known to have been built in the late 4th century over an early settlement; the site was probably abandoned in the early 7th century and the burials can be dated from the mid-7th century.

Dayr Al-Malak

This nine-domed, mudbrick church is located near ancient Kellis between the modern villages of Masara and Sheikh Wali. The extent of the ancient site is unknown due to modern cultivation and salination.  It was surveyed in 1980, when plans were drawn up and a small test excavation was conducted.  It was re-examined in 2012 when some human remains were noted on the surface, indicating the probable existence of a cemetery associated with the church. The structure is of significance to the study of church architecture and the survival of Christianity in the oasis during the Islamic period as it can be assigned to the late 13th or early 14th century.


Near the Roman-period cemetery of al-Muzawwaqa in western Dakhleh, is a small fourth-century settlement and associated cemetery. Monash undertook one season of exploration in the cemetery in 2008 to determine its size and the character of the burials. There are approximately 50 graves all aligned on an east-west axis, with heads on the west and unaccompanied by grave goods. This pattern replicates those found at Dayr Abu Matta, Kellis and Amhida in the west of Dakhleh and typifies Christian burial practice also encountered in the Nile valley and neighbouring Kharga Oasis of the 4th century onwards.