The grave of Nestorius in Egypt

The exile of Nestorius to Egypt led him into a series of misfortunes, not all terminating with his death.  Ken Parry kindly drew my attention to a paper that he presented in 2011 on this very subject[1].  In fact I heard the end of this paper at the Oxford Patristics Conference, and wished that I had heard the rest.

Was there a tomb of Nestorius in Egypt?  Archaeological surveys at the Kharga oasis in the western desert, and at Akhmim in Upper Egypt, prior to the recent revolution, raised the question.  The tomb of Nestorius has not been found, but there is quite a bit of literary evidence that the tomb did exist, and was the object of pilgrimages during the Middle Ages by Syriac speakers from the Church of the East.

After losing out in the political infighting after the Council of Ephesus, Nestorius was exiled to Upper Egypt, to the “Oasis Magna” or “Great Oasis”.  This designation was given in antiquity to the combination of the Kharga and Dakhla Oases.  Today these are some 75 miles apart, but perhaps in the lusher climate of antiquity this was less – I do not know.[2]

But the area was within range of raiders from the south known as Blemmyes.  We learn what happened next from Evagrius Scholasticus, quoting letters of Nestorius, that he had been captured while at Hibis in the Kharga Oasis, and injured, and had fled north to Panopolis, modern Akhmim.  The governor of that place sent him to Elephantine Island, even further south, but then immediately recalled him.  The journey seems to have been too much, and he died, worn out from trouble, at Akhmim, some time around 450-451.  Evagrius adds that the new emperor Marcian had summoned him to the Council of Chalcedon; but he did not make it.

The location of his grave is given in a number of forms by the sources.  Local tradition at Akhmim identifies Tell Nastur as the location.  A gorge some miles outside Akhmim was identified by Amelineau as the location of a monastery, and a number of stone inscriptions, one of which mentions the name of Nestorius.  The gorge is in fact “Wadi Bi’r al-‘Ayn situated north-east of Akhmim near the village of Salamuni”

Dr P. then unearths a truly interesting fragment – a Coptic history in which Shenoute and Nestorius met.[3]  In this, apparently Nestorius offered to give Shenoute his possessions so that they could be distributed to the poor; but Shenoute refuses, because Nestorius will not say “God died.”  It would be interesting to see what this says, verbatim.

The paper concludes with references to Nestorianism in Egypt.

As and when the political situation improves, it would be most interesting to search for the tomb of Nestorius.  Let us hope that someone takes up the challenge.

  1. [1]Ken Parry, ‘”Rejoice for Me, O Desert” : fresh light on the remains of Nestorius in Egypt’, Studia Patristica 68 (2013), 41-49.
  2. [2]Scott Donald Haddow, Dental Morphological Analysis of Roman Era Burials from the Dakhleh Oasis, Egypt, University College London thesis, 2012.  Online here: “Dakhleh’s nearest neighbour is Kharga Oasis, located roughly 120 km to the east, followed by Farafra Oasis, approximately 200 km to the northwest. In ancient times, the Dakhleh and Kharga Oases were often collectively referred to as the Great Oasis (Oasis Magna) and this is mirrored today in the Egyptian government’s designation of the region as “The New Valley” (Arabic: El-Wadi el-Gedid).”
  3. [3]David W. Johnson, “Further Fragments of a Coptic History of the Church: Cambridge Or. 1699 R”, Enchoria 6 (1976), 7-17.

4 thoughts on “The grave of Nestorius in Egypt

  1. Very interesting! Didn’t know the informatison that Nestorius was summoned to the Council of Chalcedon. So probably, Nestorius was still alive at 451. Can i get the paper of Ken Parry or it’s just private?

  2. Well he may have died before the council opened – remember that communication was slow. But it is certainly a great pity that he was not there.

    You must ask Ken Parry for a copy of his paper.

Leave a Reply