The American Research Center in Eygpt

Updates from the Red Monastery Church

Updates from the Red Monastery Church

Updates from the Red Monastery Church

The Red Monastery Church at Sohag has been the venue of one of ARCE's most significant heritage conservation projects. Made possible with grant funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, ARCE has worked at the sixth-century church since 2003 - in collaboration with the Ministry of Antiquities and the Coptic Orthodox Church - to reveal the beauty of this Early Byzantine structure for the first time in many centuries.

Nicholas Warner directed a team of architectural conservators and local workers under the leadership of Mahmud al-Tayyib, concentrating on the brick-built tower, or keep, constructed beside the south wall of the church. The tower had undergone several previous phases of restoration and repair, some of which caused damage and sealed moisture into the walls. The team removed modern plumbing and wall coverings to allow the structure to breath and moisture to evaporate. The conservation process revealed an ancient hydraulic system, constructed with ceramic pipes that moved water into different rooms of the tower. And a deck and handrail are now in place to allow visitors to view a large tank that was likely an ancient baptismal basin.

Several recently discovered artifacts are on display at the tower, including shards of Mamluk pottery, an imported Chinese bowl, a locally produced 19th-century vessel and an iron knife. The tower's roof, domes and vaults were cleaned and reinforced, and a new wooden door was installed in an exterior frame that includes the remains of a hieroglyph inscription.

At the nave walls - battered for centuries by sun, wind and other environmental factors - an Italian conservation team led by Alberto Sucato and Emiliano Ricchi cleaned the Red Monastery's plaster and brick masonry, which display some of the church's exquisite decorative paintings. On areas where brickwork had been exposed, conservators resurfaced the walls with plaster compatible with the original materials used by the ancient builders.

Also in the last nine months, ARCE and Dina Bakhoum in collaboration with the Ministry of Antiquities provided on-the-job training for nearly two dozen Egyptian conservation graduates. The trainees learned the theoretical principles and procedures of conservation, safety regulations and proper storage of materials and equipment. Then each student, individually mentored under close supervision, carried out assigned work on the walls of the church.

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