The American Research Center in Eygpt

St. Paul's Monastery, Red Sea

St. Paul's Monastery, Red Sea

St. Paul's Monastery, Red Sea

st paul_monasterycloseFrom 1997 through 2005 ARCE oversaw extensive conservation work at the Monastery of St. Paul, the Hermit. This monastery is located in the eastern desert mountains of Egypt near the Red Sea. The Cave Church of St. Paul marks the spot where St. Anthony, "the Father of Monasticism," and St. Paul, "the First Hermit," are believed to have met. It is a sacred place representing the very beginning of Christian monasticism.

According to Church Tradition, St. Paul of Thebes (also known as St. Paul of Alexandria) for whom the monastery is named, lived a solitary ascetic life in a cave here between about AD 251 and 325, hence his other title "the First Hermit." It is believed that this is the site of the famous meeting of St. Paul and St. Anthony described in the Life of St. Paul written by St. Jerome, and depicted in numerous icons.

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Exterior of St. Paul's monastery

The monastery is widely celebrated as one of the oldest Christian monasteries in Egypt and it is a precious inheritance for the Coptic faithful, who identify the Cave Church of St. Paul as the saint's hermitage and the place where St. Anthony buried him. The monastery of St. Anthony is only twenty-five kilometers away to the northwest, but separated from St. Paul's monastery by the South Galala Plateau. The two monasteries have always been associated with each other through the lives of their founders, and until the early eighteenth century, St. Paul's was a dependency of the larger and richer monastery of St. Anthony.

In 1997, work began at St. Paul's Monastery to conserve the mill building, refectory and eighteenth-century enclosure wall. This site, visited by Coptic pilgrims as well as tourists interested in the historic attributes of the place, contains vestiges of its past life as a self-sufficient community. The mill building has special significance as the source of the flour for the bread that is such an important part of the monks' daily life.

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Interior wall paintings conserved by ARCE

In 2001, a larger project to conserve the entire church, its venerable walls and unique paintings was begun. The project was directed by Michael Jones under the Antiquities Development Project of ARCE and was completed in 2005. The result is the preservation of this precious inheritance for the residents of the monastery and for scholars, pilgrims and tourists alike.

A book about this conservation project was published in 2008. "The Cave Church of Paul the Hermit at the Monastery of St. Paul in Egypt," by William Lyster, is co-published by the American Research Center in Egypt and Yale University Press.
Read more about the book>>

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