Wadi El Natrun
|Wadi El Natrun|
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Wadi El Natrun (Arabic for "Natron Valley"; Coptic: Ϣⲓϩⲏⲧ Šihēt "Measure of the Hearts", Greek: Σκῆτις  or Σκήτη) is a valley located in Beheira Governorate, Egypt, including a town with the same name. The name refers to the presence of eight different lakes in the region that produce natron salt.
In Christian literature it is usually known as Scetis and is one of the three early Christian monastic centers located in the desert of the northwestern Nile Delta. The other two monastic centers are Nitria and Kellia. These three centers are often easily confused and sometimes referred to as a single place (such as "Nitria" or "Nitrian Desert"), but they are three separate locales, though they are geographically close together and have interrelated histories. Scetis, now called Wadi El Natrun, is best known today because it still has ancient monasteries, unlike Nitria and Kellia which have only archaeological remains.
The Nitrian Desert is sometimes used to mean the entire area region where the monasteries are located, or more specifically it could mean the immediate area around Nitria and Kellia, with the region around Wadi El Natrun sometimes called the Scetis Desert.
The region was and remains one of the most sacred regions in Christianity. Between the 4th and 7th century A.D., the region saw hundreds of thousands of people from the world over join the hundreds of monasteries of the Nitrian Desert, centered on Nitria, Kellia and Scetis (Wadi El Natrun). The desolate region became a sanctuary for the desert fathers and for cenobitic monastic communities. The solitude of the Nitrian Desert attracted these people because they saw in the privations of the desert a means of learning stoic self-discipline (asceticism). Thus, these individuals believed that desert life would teach them to eschew the things of this world and allow them to follow God's call in a more deliberate and individual way.
Saint Macarius of Egypt first came to Scetis (Wadi El Natrun) around 330 AD where he established a solitary monastic site. His reputation attracted a loose band of anchorites, hermits and monks who settled nearby in individual cells. Many of them came from nearby Nitria and Kellia where they had previous experience in solitary desert living, thus it was not so much a place of innovation but a consolidation of some like-minded monks. By the end of the fourth century, four distinct communities had developed: Baramus, Macarius, Bishoi and John Kolobos. At first these communities were groupings of cells centered around a communal church and facilities, but over time developed into enclosed walls and watchtowers. As in Nitria and Kellia, Scellis was subject to raids from desert nomads, and they experienced internal fractures related to doctrinal disputes in Egypt. The monasteries flourished during the Muslim conquest of Egypt (639-42), but in the eighth and ninth centuries it came into conflict with Muslim rulers over taxation and administration concerns. While Nitria and Kellia were eventually abandoned in the 7th and 9th centuries respectively, Scetis continued throughout the Medieval period. Some of the individual monasteries were eventually abandoned or destroyed, but four have remained in use to the present day:
Saints of the region 
Some of the most renowned saints of the region include the various Desert Fathers, as well as Saint Amun, Saint Arsenius, Saint John the Dwarf, Saint Macarius of Egypt, Saint Macarius of Alexandria, Saint Moses the Black, Saint Pishoy, Sts. Maximos[disambiguation needed] and Domatios, Saint Poimen The Great and Saint Samuel the Confessor.
The environs of Wadi Natrun have been identified as the likely site of where the plane of French aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry crashed on December 30, 1935 - an experience which was documented in Saint-Exupéry's book "Wind, Sand and Stars" and in part inspired another of his books, "The Little Prince". (this is no longer valid. see Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Discovery at sea, 2004)
Image gallery 
See also 
- WĀDĪ NAṬRŪN in: Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium
- Roger S. Bagnall, etc. Egypt from Alexander to the early Christians: An Archaeological and Historical Guide, Getty Publications, 2004. pg. 108-112
- "The first monk to settle in Wadi Natrun was Macarius the Egyptian, whose retirement to the desert took place in 330 A.D.." (Hugh G. Evelyn-White, "The Egyptian Expedition 1916-1919: IV. The Monasteries of the Wadi Natrun" The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, 15.7, Part 2: The Egyptian Expedition 1916-1919 [July 1920):34-39] p 34; Evelyn White's article gives a brief overview of Wadi Natrun from literary sources.
Further reading 
- M. Cappozzo, I monasteri del deserto di Scete, Todi 2009 (Tau Editore).
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- The monasteries of the Arab Desert and Wadi Natrun UNESCO World Heritage Centre 1992-2012