Chief town of the province of Sohag, Egypt, situated on the west bank of the River Nile, c. 490 km south of Cairo. To the west of the town are two 5th-century Coptic churches, known as the White Monastery (Dayr al-Abyad) and the Red Monastery (Dayr al-Ahmar). The White Monastery is the more important of the two. Although the surrounding area was investigated briefly by Petrie in 1907, further excavations were not undertaken until the late 1980s.
The White Monastery itself was founded in the first half of the 4th century ad. Its abbot between c. ad 388 and 446 was Shenute, one of the leading figures of the early monastic movement. The structure is enclosed by high walls of white limestone blocks and comprises a basilical church (35×75 m), probably founded c. ad 440, which is preceded by a western narthex, terminates in an eastern trefoil apse with a single, central altar and is flanked to the south by a long hall of unknown use. Galleries surmounted the hall and the basilica’s narthex and side aisles....