Shenoute bigraphy, stories - Egyptian saint

Shenoute : biography

348 - 466

Shenoute the Great, Saint Shenoute the Archimandrite (Coptic: ; (347-465 or 348-466) (also called Shenouda) was the abbot of the White Monastery in Egypt. He is considered a saint by the Oriental Orthodox Churches, and is one of the most renowned saints of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

Influence on the Monastic Movement

From his uncle, Saint Pigol, Shenoute inherited a monastery based on the Pachomian system, though more austere and stringent. This made its followers few in number and probably promoted decline rather than growth. Shenoute implemented a more comprehensive system that was less stringent and more suitable to the surroundings and the background of the people. This new system had an unusual component, which was a covenant (diatheke) to be recited and adhered to literally by the new novices. It read as follows:

Transgressors of that covenant were expelled from the monastery altogether. This was considered a near death sentence for those peasant monks.

Another interesting feature of Shenoute's monastic system was the requirement for the new novices to live outside the monastery for a period of time before they were deemed worthy to be consecrated as monks. This seemed to be at odds with the Nitrian monastic system, which allowed the monks to live away from the monastic settlements only after they became proficient in the monastic life. Shenoute also utilized the time of the monks, outside prayer and worship, in more varied tasks within the monastery than the Nitrian monks were exposed to. Aside from the traditional trades of rope and basket weaving, the monks engaged in weaving and tailoring linen, cultivation of flax, leather work and shoe-making, writing and book-binding, carpentry, and metal and pottering-making. All in all, Shenouda tried as much as possible to employ the monks in their old professions. Such activities made the monastery a vast self-supporting complex, which occupied some of land.

As a monastic leader, Shenoute recognized the need for literacy among the monk. So he required all his monks and nuns to learn to read and encourage more of them to pursue the art of writing manuscripts. This made the monastery more and more appealing to belong to, and consequently made the threat of expulsion seems the more painful.

At the Council of Ephesus

Because of his popularity in Upper Egypt and his zeal for Orthodoxy, Shenoute was chosen by Saint Cyril the Great to accompany him in representing the Church of Alexandria at the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431 AD. There he provided the moral support that Saint Cyril needed to defeat the heresy of Nestorius, Bishop of Constantinople. The eventual exile of the latter to Akhmim, Shenoute's backyard, was a testimony to the impression that Shenoute had made upon the attendees of this council.

Monasteries named after Saint Shenoute

St Shenouda Monastery, New South Wales, Australia Four Coptic Orthodox monasteries worldwide are named after Saint Shenouda the Archimandrite, namely:

  • Monastery of Saint Shenouda near Sohag, Egypt, also known as the White Monastery
  • Monastery of Saint Shenouda in Milano, Italy
  • Coptic Monastery of St. Shenouda in Rochester, New York, U.S.A.
  • St Shenouda Coptic Orthodox Monastery in Putty, New South Wales, Australia

There is also a Coptic Orthodox church - St Mary and St. Shenouda - in Coulsdon, England.


On 7 Epip (14 July) 466 AD, following a short illness possibly brought upon by advanced age, Shenoute died in the presence of his monks.

Early life

Shenoute was born in 348 AD in the Upper Egyptian village of Shenaloletto to devout Christian parents. His uncle was Saint Pigol, another famous Egyptian saint and the founder of a monastery in Upper Egypt known today as the White Monastery. At a young age, Shenoute helped taking care of his father's flock of sheep.

During one of Shenoute's trips to his uncle's monastery, Saint Pigol kept him as a result of a vision and later made him a monk. Around 385 AD, he was chosen by his fellow monks to succeed his uncle as the abbot of the White Monastery. When he took over that task, the monastery was inhabited by 30 old monks. By the time of his death in 466 AD, the monastery had 2,200 monks and 1,800 nuns, who lived over an area about 3,000 times its original size.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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