Coptic Monastery of St. Anthony
Egypt, Zaafarana

The Coptic Monastery of St. Anthony is located in Egypt, in the Eastern Desert, 50 km from the Red Sea coast and the resort of Zaafaran. One of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world was founded by followers of St. Anthony, the first Christian hermit who lived here in a small cave from the year 312 until his death in 356, leading an ascetic lifestyle. After the death of St. Anthony, his followers began to settle in these places, and in 361-363, near the cave, a monastery was founded - a church, cells, workshops and utility rooms were built. The monks lived in solitude, led a secluded life, gathered together only during worship or in the refectory. In the VI-VII centuries, many hermits from the wilderness of the Wadi al-Natrun desert sought refuge in the monastery of St. Anthony, fleeing the raids of the Bedouins and Berbers. In 615, the Melkite monks who were persecuted by the Persians found refuge in the monastery. Remoteness of the monastery of St. Anthony from the populated areas provided him with relative security, however, the monastery was repeatedly attacked by Bedouins, in the XI century the monastery was sacked by Arab nomads, and at the end of the same century it was destroyed by Turks and Kurds. The monastery was restored only a century later by Egyptian Christians - Copts. Thanks to the testimony of the Arab writer Abu Salih and the Egyptian historian Makrizi, it is known that from the end of the XII century the monastery of St. Anthony belonged to the Coptic monks. Eyewitnesses described that the monastery owned a large land allotment, was surrounded by a high fortress wall, it had a large orchard, a vineyard, a vegetable garden and three springs with drinking water. At the end of the 15th century, the monastery was captured and devastated by the Bedouins. According to eyewitnesses, almost all the monks who lived in the monastery were killed, the invaders built a kitchen in the church of St. Anthony, and manuscripts from the monastery library were used to kindle the stoves. For many years the monastery was in desolation. In the XVI-XVII centuries, the monastery was visited by European Catholic priests, thanks to their records the descriptions of the monastery of that time were preserved: "the cells of the monks are more like tombs than housing, the monastery, although large in size, was dilapidated and desolate. The monks are dressed very poorly, all clothes are in patches, they eat rice, vegetables and eat food only once a day, and on fasting days - after sunset. " In 1850, Archimandrite Porfiry visited the monastery of St. Anthony, from his memoirs it is known that it was possible to get into the monastery at that time only with the help of an elevator - a rope with a loop at the end. Until 1901, women were not allowed into the monastery, only one and a half thousand years from its foundation, this rule was changed. In 1930-1931, an expedition of the Byzantine Institute of America worked in the monastery to study its history. In 1953, a road was made to the monastery, so it became possible to get to the monastery from Cairo in 5-6 hours (before this, camel travel took a week). After a large-scale reconstruction carried out at the beginning of the XXI century, about one million pilgrims and tourists from around the world visit the monastery of St. Anthony every year. Two high belfries were built at the entrance to the monastery, the monastery is surrounded by a high fortress wall, some sections of which date back to the VI century. One of the oldest buildings is the church of St. Anthony, built in the XII century, most of the frescoes and paintings of the temple were painted in the VII-XIII centuries. On the territory of the monastery are also the Church of the Apostles, the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Church of the Archangel Michael and the Church of St. Mark, in which the liturgy is performed. The monastery library contains ancient Coptic manuscripts (about 1800 scrolls) and printed books in Arabic and Coptic. During the reconstruction of the monastery, priceless murals were restored, a medieval mill, a press for squeezing olive oil and a dovecote were restored. Cave of St. Anthony is located 2 km from the monastery, at an altitude of 680 meters above sea level. A winding path leads to the cave, on which, for the convenience of pilgrims, a staircase was built (the climb to the cave takes about an hour).

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