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Shenoute was the first outstanding writer of the Egyptian language in its Coptic form, and his literary importance was never equaled; he lived from A.D. 348 to 465.

Shenoute image

Fig. 2 St. Shenoute (Adapted from a Paris Manuscript)

The ancient monastery of Shenoute is one of the most important historical sites, both for scholars and for the Coptic Orthodox Church. It was founded about A.D. 350 by Pgol, who was then succeeded by Ebonh. Its third leader was the great saint Shenoute, who led the monastic federation from A.D. 385 to 465. Shenoute’s name is now attached to this site. His miraculous life is recorded in an ancient biography written by his successor Besa.

Shenoute assumed the leadership of his monastic federation in A.D. 385. As a monastic leader, he was a strict reformer of monastic moral life, an energetic administrator, a fiery preacher, and a great spiritual guide. He accompanied Coptic Pope Cyril I to the First Ecumenical Council of Ephesus (A.D. 431). He defended the poor and used the monastery to shelter refugees in time of crisis. He engaged in polemics against Christian heretics. He was an enemy of traditional Egyptian pagan religion in the region of Sohag and Akhmim — attacking it both by word and by deed. In Shenoute’s day, pagan temples began to be closed and dismantled, and their architectural members were reused in other buildings. Some of the material used to build the great church of Shenoute’s monastery was taken from ruined buildings; thus some of the blocks built into the church are inscribed with non-Christian religious scenes or hieroglyphic texts. The relationship of these reused blocks to the ruins of the nearby temples awaits further investigation.


Fig. 2. Reused Pharaonic Blocks, Western Staircase of Church

Fig. 3 Reused Pharaonic Blocks, Western Staircase of Church