The Temple of Isis at Philae was the last functioning temple in Egypt.
200 years after the rest of Egypt’s temples were closed in favour of a new religion, Christianity, the goddess Isis was still worshipped here. Philae remained open so that people from Nubia, to the south of Egypt, could worship here.
Christianity swept through Egypt during the second century A.D. despite severe suppression and persecution by the followers of the traditional Egyptian and Roman religions.
This tide couldn't be pushed back however, and a hundred years later, during the reign of Roman Emperor Theodosius, Christianity was declared to be the only official religion of the state. In 393 A.D. the Emperor issued a decree banning all pagan rituals.
As members of the elite adopted Christianity, the Church became well-funded through donations and gifts. Christians began to build churches, saints' shrines and monasteries, redefining the sacred landscape of Egypt. Some buildings were newly constructed, although many were built on earlier sacred sites or occupied existing temples. Others were built of stone reused from dismantled complexes or shrines. This was mainly practical, but it could also be seen as a triumph of Christianity over Egypt's 'pagan' gods.
The last hieroglyphic and demotic inscriptions, dating to A.D. 436 and A.D. 452, are both found on Philae. Finally, in 536 A.D., the last priests of Philae were forced out by order of Roman Emperor Justinian, and with them, any knowledge of how to read the ancient hieroglyphs was lost.
Today, surrounded by water as it is, Philae Temple is arguably the most charming temple throughout Egypt.
Photo: Jack Kotz