This dissertation examines the fourth-century church complex excavated, between 2006 and 2008, at Ain el-Gedida, in the Dakhla Oasis of Upper Egypt (project directed by Professor Roger Bagnall). The church and the set of interconnected rooms that form the complex are one of the earliest examples discovered in Egypt thus far. Therefore, they provide valuable information on the development of Christian public architecture, not only in the region of the Western Desert but also throughout Egypt. Furthermore, the uncommon layout of the church itself, its location within a cluster of rooms serving more utilitarian functions, and the evidence of different phases of substantial architectural alterations make the complex a particularly significant case study. One goal of this dissertation is not to discuss the church complex as an isolated building, but to contextualize it within the topographical framework of the settlement. The archaeological evidence from the complex is not presented in the form of a standard report; rather, it is used to approach more general issues, regarding the chronology of the site, its abandonment, and the nature of the settlement, particularly the social structure of its inhabitants.
This work first examines the architectural history of the complex and sheds light on its different phases, thanks to the study of the evidence gathered in the field. Furthermore, it discusses the results of comparative analysis between the church of Ain el-Gedida and other examples of Early Christian architecture inside and outside Egypt. In particular, it emphasizes the considerable typological similarities shared with the Small East Church at the nearby site of Ismant el-Kharab (ancient Kellis). The investigation of the typological origins of the church of Ain el-Gedida includes comparisons with the earliest known examples of Christian architecture, even from relatively distant regions, such as Dura Europos and its well-known domus ecclesiae.
Furthermore, methods of spatial analysis, in particular access analysis, are applied to the church complex and its immediate surroundings, with the aim of investigating patterns of access control and use of space at the site in Late Antiquity. The results are offered as a valuable ingredient in typological analysis, integrating the available archaeological evidence.
In its last section, this dissertation examines issues of chronology, both relative and absolute, in relation to the church complex. It also takes into consideration the highly debated question concerning the nature of the complex and, more in general, of the site of Ain el-Gedida, with the goal of shedding light on its people and their social identity. In addition to the monastery/village readings, originally brought forth by scholars, further interpretations are proposed, analyzing the available evidence in favor or against any of them.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. June 2009. Major: Art History. Advisor: Prof. Frederick M. Asher. 1 computer file (PDF); xii, 355 pages, appendix. Ill. (some col.) , plans.
Christians of the Western Desert in Late Antiquity: the fourth-century church complex of Ain el-Gedida, Upper Egypt..
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