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The Egyptian Contribution to Christianity 321
(Deir-el-Ahmar) some three or four miles north-west. The former
of these has been occupied by villagers who find its fortress-like
structure a welcome security, though the presence of whole
families has led some hasty tourists to propagate absurd stories
of married monks. A more interesting thing about Shenoute is
that he was a great writer of letters and sermons, and fortunately
many of these survive, so that we can form a fair picture of mon-
asticism in fifth-century Thebais. The monks under his rule
were native Egyptians, not Alexandrians, Egyptian fellahin like
those we see working in the fields to-day: sturdy, indefatigable
toilers who worked all the better for a stick laid about their backs,
a form of discipline to which they had been accustomed from
the days of the Pharaohs, and Shenoute did not spare the rod.
Simple-minded, rather child-like, they had a taste for practical
jokes and horse-play, a weakness which caused Shenoute much
annoyance. Shenoute must have been rather a trying superior,
as he seems to have had a hasty temper, and had no hesitation
in laying violent hands on a civil magistrate who came to inquire
about a monk who had unfortunately died from the effects of
disciplinary correction. No doubt it was difficult to keep tlie
monastery in order and to prevent noise, chiefly because of the
troops of children about, the ablates, foundlings or children of
poor parents who were sent to the abbot to be adopted into the
monastic community. Shenoute's many letters and discourses
were written in the Coptic dialect of Akhmim and his fame as
a writer caused this to become the literary idiom of the Coptic
Church for many centuries: whatever dialect a man spoke, he
copied the speech and phrasing of Shenoute when he took pen
in hand.
No reliable account exists of the numbers of monks and her-
mits scattered over Thebais, but there must have been many
thousands, taking the evidence of the numerous remains of
monasteries over the country. Hardly a single ruin of an ancient
temple exists without remains of some Christian monastery built
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