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WADI NATRUN:
Christian solitude in the depression, Egypt

It is common to allege that Wadi Natrun was the actual birthplace for Christian monasticism. This theory can be challenged by the theory that the Essenes of Palestine were the first Christians, and they practiced monasticism.

The reason why the early Copts chose to install themselves out in the desert was more than piety. Under the Roman rule the Egyptian Christians were persecuted, especially around year 300, and many found refuge out of the cities. When Christianity became state religion in 330 Wadi Natrun was already firmly established as an important Christian centre, a place of piety.
The piety would be lost over the centuries, and the monks would gradually become managers of their lands, benefiting from the work of the monastic serfs. In the 19th century, visitors to Wadi Natrun reported that the monks were lazy, dirty, immoral and of little education and manners.
There were at the most 50 monasteries here, most built according to the same pattern: fortresses with one or more churches inside, storerooms, a dining hall, kitchen, bakery and monks' cells. Of these only 4 have survived into modern times. Some traveller's guide books are quite scornful at the fact that most of what you will see at Wadi Natrun is not remotely close to its alleged age. Many of the buildings are really from the 19th and 20th centuries.
Personally, I found my visit here quite delightful, and certain sections at all monasteries appear to me as very attractive and interesting. After all, as the monasteries have been in continuous use for more than 1,600 years, no wonder that the monks have rebuilt the parts that needed repair.

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