Restoration: St Anthony’s Monastery

Yahoo! News

Egypt’s antiquities chief on Thursday unveiled the completion of an 8-year, $14.5 million restoration of the world’s oldest Christian monastery, touting it as a sign of Christian-Muslim coexistence.

The announcement at the 1,600-year-old St. Anthony’s Monastery came a month after Egypt’s worst incident of sectarian violence in over a decade, when a shooting on a church on Orthodox Christmas Eve killed seven people.

The attack raised heavy criticism of the Egyptian government abroad and at home, by critics who say it has not done enough to address tensions between the country’s Muslim majority and its Christian population, estimated at 10 percent of the 79 million population.

The government insists the shooting was a purely criminal act with no sectarian motives, and officials persistently deny the existence of significant Muslim-Christian frictions.

Top archaeologist Zahi Hawass took the opportunity to reiterate that stance as he showed journalists the work at St. Anthony’s, an ancient compound at the foot of the desert mountains near Egypt’s Red Sea coast.


African Press Agency

The Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, Zahi Hawas revealed on Thursday the discovery of the oldest Coptic antique under St. Anthony’s Church, ( a cell for monks ) dating back to 400 AD with paintings in the ancient Coptic language, at the oldest monastery in the world.

The discovery was made at the completion of a comprehensive restoration and rehabilitation of St. Anthony’s Monastery, situated in Zafarana, about 100 kilometres south-east of Cairo, near Egypt’s Red Sea coast. The renovation lasted nine years and cost 80 million Egyptian pounds ($14.5 million).

Experts say the restoration and discovery of the cells for the monks sheds important light on the early years of monasticism and bolsters the country’s long monastic tradition.

They added that it unveils a missing part of the history of Christianity in Egypt since there is nothing written about the beginning of the monastery.

drhawass.com

Inside, we restored all of the icons and paintings, as well as the architecture of the church. The most impressive thing, though, was that underneath this church, we discovered the oldest Coptic cell in the world. It dates to the 4th century AD, and the areas where the monks would stand and sit are still visible. Our restoration experts constructed a plexiglass floor over this cell, which allows visitors to view this old cell while still preserving the 6th century structure above.

Another building that was very well restored is the dining hall, which contains a long dining table made of limestone, with space for about 60 people to sit around it and eat. There is also a space for a person to sit and recite religious texts. The restoration work here kept the feel of the past, and I could imagine it was like the dining of the Middle Ages.

The Monastery of Saint Anthony also has a fortress that dates to the reign of the Roman emperor Justinian, in the 4th century AD. This area was used to protect the monastery from the attacks it suffered through its long history. The monastery also has a well that provides over 100 cubic meters of water, a water wheel, a grinding area, and a garden.

The landscape of this monastery is beautiful, and many scholars come to study the architecture of this place. During our restoration, we removed several buildings that did not fit with the original design of the monastery and restored over 110 cells.

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