Monastery of St. Anthony

In 1996, with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development and at the request of the Coptic Monastery of St. Anthony at the Red Sea, ARCE’s Antiquities Development Project, in cooperation with the Supreme Council of Antiquities, began the conservation of a unique cycle of 13th century wall paintings in the monastery’s ancient church.

Ignored for centuries because they were covered with soot and overpainting, the paintings revealed by the conservation phase of work, which was completed in 1999, are of extremely high quality, both stylistically and conceptually. While rooted in the Christian tradition of Egypt, they also reveal explicit connections with medieval Byzantine and Islamic art.

The paintings constitute the most complete and best-preserved iconographic program of Christian paintings to come from medieval Egypt. These paintings were carefully documented and published, alongside more newly discovered wall paintings in the church that date back to the 6th/7th century, in Monastic Visions: Wall Paintings in the Monastery of St. Antony at the Red Sea published by Yale University Press and ARCE in 2002 whose principal contributor and editor was Dr. Elizabeth Bolman.

This publication includes contributions by art historians, conservators, historians, an archaeologist, and an anthropologist, and documents the results of ARCE’s considerable conservation efforts. The text includes a full analysis of the striking paintings, which are reproduced in full color, and situates them within the artistic, historical, and religious context of Coptic Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean region during the Middle Ages.

Later phases of work at the monastery encompassed archaeological documentation and the introduction of visitor information and displays. These efforts began in 2004 following renovations at the monastery that unearthed the remains of an earlier church and monastic cells beneath a 14th century church floor. Archaeological recording and conservation work were subsequently carried out under the supervision of the project director, Father Maximous El-Antony. In 2008 a glass floor was installed over the conserved remains and interior lighting was fitted to create a display space below the floor of the present-day church. An information panel about the display, in English and Arabic, was installed in early 2009 at the completion of the project.

Because of the interventions taken by ARCE with support from its partners, the Monastery of St. Anthony continues to be a popular destination for both foreign tourists and Egyptian pilgrims with an interest in the lives of the ancient monks who first populated the desert.