The Halfway House, I - XIX
 
                                                Proem

Mid-point on the road between Cairo and Alexandria stands a café known as ‘The Halfway House’. About two miles distant to the west there is a village, which depends on a salt and soda factory established by the shore of a small lake. Here in ancient times the Egyptians found the nitrates which they used for preserving the bodies of their dead; hence the modern name of Wadi Natrun is given to this lake. Beyond it extends the Nitrian desert, where in the Fourth Century there were over three hundred monasteries and more than five thousand monks - among whom were many saints, including Saint Macarius and Saint Moses the Black.

 

Today four of these monasteries remain, with, perhaps, a total of one hundred monks among them. West of this desert lies a more remote one, the wilderness of Scete, and further even than that is the most desolate place, the desert called ‘Klimax’. In the Second World War armies fought across these deserts, and the scouting forces from both sides came as far south as the Monastery of the Romans, Deir Baramus, which, according to tradition, was founded by two young men who had fled from Rome at the time of its fall to the barbarians.