Museum at the Monastery of St. Anthony

Designing and installing the exhibition space within the Monastery of St. Anthony is regarded as one of ARCE’s most well-received projects.  Directed by Father Maximous El-Antony and in partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities (the predecessor of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities), the project commenced in 2011 and lasted for a period of three years.

The Monastery of St. Anthony is situated in the Eastern Desert, about 93 miles (150 km) south of Suez. A wall painting conservation project in the monastery’s ancient church was previously carried out by ARCE with funding from USAID from 1996-1999. Drawing from these previous efforts, Fr. Maximous, a monk at the monastery, envisioned the construction of an exhibition in order to present artifacts belonging to the monastery and to educate both local and international visitors about the monastery’s community and history.

The project’s goal was to aid Fr. Maximous in the layout and installation of the exhibit within an existing two-story gallery space adjacent to the monastery’s northern wall, with the first floor dedicated to housing the exhibit and its displays and the second dedicated to conservation and storage of the monastery’s historic objects.

The project implementation was carried out in two distinct phases. The first phase involved selecting the exhibited items and establishing a database collection. This was overseen by two ARCE project staff, who were tasked with visiting the monastery on a regular basis in order to familiarize themselves with the different historic artifacts in storage at the monastery and the existing hardcopy inventory that had been created for them. This information was then entered into a computerized catalog, specially designed to suit the project and the types of objects. In total, 1,000 objects were integrated into the new catalog.

The project’s second phase included planning the layout and assembly of the exhibit. Michelangelo Lupo, a museum design consultant, worked alongside Fr. Maximous in order to tackle all aspects of the exhibit, including the gallery’s lighting, establishing a dedicated visitor entrance to control traffic to and from the exhibit, and designing and placing the display cases. Fr. Maximous was integral in this process and led the development of three overlapping thematic scenarios for the exhibit.

These themes illustrate the traditional life of the monks, the interconnections between the monks of the remote desert monastery and their Bedouin neighbors who facilitated supplies from the Nile Valley and the role of monasticism and the monks in the modern world. Groups of objects on display include equipment relating to storage and preparation of food; fishing tackle used on expeditions to the coast; liturgical and devotional objects such as processional crosses, chalices and chalice boxes, patens, censors, vestments and icons; and printing presses and manuscripts. Lupo and Fr. Maximous also oversaw the design and installation of informative panels for the exhibit cases in both Arabic and English.

By July 2014, the new displays had been installed and the artifacts organized in them according to the three themes of the exhibit. Each display has its own specialized lighting fixtures and bilingual labels that were written by Fr. Maximous. Two bilingual signs for the museum were also installed at the entrance of the museum and at another entrance on the second floor.