Nitria and Scetis: H. G. Evelyn White,The Monasteries of the Wadi ‘N Natrun

The valuable Syriac documents which came from the Monastery of the Virgin in the Wadi el-Natrun, are still labeled sometimes as “Nitrian.” Similarly, the dialect of the Coptic manuscripts from St. Macarius’ Monastery, situated in the same desert, is called “Nitrian Bohairic.” This label seems to imply that the two monasteries are located in the desert of Nitria.

However, neither the Monastery of the Syrians, nor that of St. Macarius is situated there! The assumption that Nitria and Wadi el-Natrun would be one and the same place is wrong, being based on a topographical confusion.

The ancient name of the Natron Valley, the source of the documents mentioned above, was “Scetis.” While the first community in Nitria goes back to Amoun, the founder of Scetis was Macarius the Egyptian. These two settlements, along with Kellia, formed the three important monastic communities situated to the West of the Nile Delta.

From a geographical point of view, Scetis is situated deeper in the desert than Nitria and it is the paneremos (or vastissima eremus, as Rufinus calls it). According to the Historia monachorum in Aegypto, it takes 24 hours to walk the distance between the two hermitages.

As to the four well-known monasteries, they are located in Scetis, not in Nitria. Therefore, the adjective “Nitrian” could not apply to them in any sense. This label was used by scholars in a period when the geography of the Egyptian desert was still obscure, but today it must be discarded.

The first who pointed out that the Wadi el-Natrun is not Nitria, was Hugh G. Evelyn White in his monumental The Monasteries of the Wadi ‘N Natrun. Here are the first two volumes of this important work:

H. G. Evelyn White, The Monasteries of the Wadi ‘N Natrun Part 1: New Coptic Texts from the Monastery of Saint Macarius (New York 1926)

H. G. Evelyn White, The Monasteries of the Wadi ‘N Natrun Part 2: The History of the Monasteries of Nitria and of Scetis (New York 1932) (this volume is available also here)


About Alin Suciu

I am a researcher at the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities. I write mostly on Coptic literature, Patristics, and apocryphal texts.
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15 Responses to Nitria and Scetis: H. G. Evelyn White,The Monasteries of the Wadi ‘N Natrun

  1. dragoljub says:

    Thank you for the download links! A grateful byzantine history researcher!

  2. Ulla says:

    Alin, thank you for the links, they are really useful. I, too, am grateful for finding books that are not in our library. And good luck with your writing!

  3. Mina says:

    thanks for the first two parts a lot … i want to download the third part but i don’t know how?

  4. Diane says:

    Does anything remain which can be identified as having come from the monastery at Canopus?

  5. mhw1 says:

    I know this is a very old post, but I was so happy to find these books online that I had to comment to thank you for putting them up and for keeping them available. There are only a few copies here in Germany where I am now, none of them available for interlibrary loan.

  6. abo hamsa says:

    many thanks to your services

  7. saweros…I would like a your copy of the third part. I attempted your link you provided here, but access to your blog is by invitation only…May I be invited to join your blog?
    Many thanks!
    Kallias Writer
    retired university librarian

  8. Pingback: vindicating Macarius of false sex accusation enabled new birth

  9. The third part is here in a very good quality:
    You just click on the above button Download, choose .pdf and wait for the preparation of the file. It is about 282MB.

    There are also all another parts:

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