Bagawat, near Kharga Oasis, is one of the oldest Christian cemeteries. The 263 known burials range from simple one-chamber structures to elaborate family mausoleums. Built over an ancient Egyptian cemetery, the style of the chapels fuses both Pharaonic and Christian elements. The cemetery began during the 4th century AD, and continued to be in use to the 11th century.
Early Christian burials continued the now-iconic ancient Egyptian tradition of using coffins and burying the deceased with burial goods. These were placed on shelves in pits dug under the chapels. Mummification was practice in this cemetery long after it had died out in the Nile valley.
The Chapel of the Exodus is one of the earliest in the cemetery. The interior of its dome is decorated in two bands illustrating scenes from the Old Testament. Perhaps the most striking of these shows the Exodus—hence the chapel’s name—with Moses leading the Israelites through the Sinai desert, as Pharaoh’s army gives chase. Other scenes depict Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark, Daniel in the lion’s den, Jonah and the whale, as well as several other episodes from the Old Testament.
Similar themes are depicted on the dome of the Chapel of Peace, including the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary and others. Greek captions identify the scene that is depicted. The interior walls are also painted with many Byzantine frescoes of grape vines, peacocks, allegorical figures, and inscriptions.
Numerous Arabic graffiti dating from the 9th century to the present day can be seen in some of the chapels, including some by Turkish soldiers who are believed to have been garrisoned at Bagawat in the late 18th century.