Public Chapels and Private Shrines
Public Chapels and Private Shrines
Deir el Medina. Temples were not the only location at which the worship of the gods occurred. The site of Deir el Medina has preserved the remains of public chapels dedicated to the gods. These chapels show a fairly consistent design. They consisted of an open forecourt leading to a roofed hall, often with one or two pillars, with benches along each side wall. On the benches were seats, seven along one side of the hall, five along the other. Some seats from these chapels were inscribed with the names of individuals, which may indicate that participation in worship in the chapel was by subscription. There is evidence later in Egypt of the existence of “cult guilds,” in which individuals would enter into a legal contract to band together in the worship of a particular deity. Such evidence does not appear until Dynasty 26 (664-525 b.c.e.), and as yet no written evidence of such societies has turned up for New Kingdom (circa 1539-1075 b.c.e.) Egypt. The open forecourt gave way to a small room, called the pronaos, which led to a series of one to three sanctuaries for cult statues, or more probably, stelae, to the gods of the shrine. Around the sides of these rooms were subsidiary service rooms or rooms in which the guardian of the chapel could live. The priests who served these chapels were the workmen who
lived at Deir el Medina and served part-time in the chapel. The chapels were places where worshipers could go to make prayers, offerings, and to receive oracles.
Domestic Shrines. Houses at Amarna have preserved evidence of domestic shrines. These shrines were located in the garden, surrounded by trees and separated from the rest of the garden by a wall. They consisted of a sloping flight of stairs leading up to a platform, on which was a walled room containing an altar of brick or limestone. Found within these shrines were statues of Akenaten and his family, or stelae showing the royal family worshiping the Aten. Again, at Deir el Medina, the hills around the town are dotted with more than fifty tiny shrines arranged in rough rows. These shrines consisted of a few rough stones each, arranged to form a back, floor, two sides and a roof. Sometimes stones marked off a miniature forecourt. Inside each shrine was originally a small stele, commemorating its donor’s dedication to his gods. Finally, there were places set aside within the house itself where people could worship their gods. The walls of a house could contain niches in which could be placed a stele of a
god. Such niches could be fitted with a wooden door and could be found in any room of the house. Deities particularly popular in such house shrines were Meretseger (protective goddess of the Theban necropolis), Renenutet (goddess of harvest), Sobek (crocodile god), Amun, Taweret (goddess who protected women during childbirth), and Hathor (mother goddess). In addition to the gods, stelae depicting deceased relatives or anthropoid busts of such relatives were erected and served as the recipients of offerings. Deceased relatives were worshipped as akh aper, effective spirits, and were thought to be able to influence the lives of their living relatives.
Unknown Cult . The nature of the cult carried on in these private venues is not well known. From the images on the stelae, it seems that offerings of incense, food, and libations were made to the gods. The ritual involved in these offerings, or their frequency, is unknown. One suggestion is that a smaller, less-elaborate version of the daily temple ritual may have been celebrated, but this is just conjecture.
Ann Rosalie David, The Ancient Egyptians: Religious Beliefs and Practices (London & Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982).
Henri Frankfort, Ancient Egyptian Religion: An Interpretation (New York: Harper, 1961).
Ashraf I. Sadek, Popular Religion in Egypt during the New Kingdom (Hildesheim: Hildesheimer Agyptologische Beitrage, 1987).