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St Anthony Monastery

Discover the rich history and spiritual significance of St Anthony Monastery in Egypt, the oldest monastery on the planet, established in the 4th century. Immerse yourself in its monastic lifestyle, explore ancient structures and attractions, and witness the ongoing restoration efforts.

St Antony Monastery - Egypt Tours Portal
Overview
St Anthony Monastery
Location Eastern Sahara
History Founded 356 AD
Structures 18-acre complex
Restoration $14.5M Project
Significance Coptic Christian Hub
Monastic Lifestyle Isolation, Prayer, Worship

Summary

  • St Anthony Monastery, located in the eastern Sahara, is the oldest monastery globally, established in the 4th century by followers of Saint Anthony, the first Christian saint and monastic community founder in Coptic Egypt.
  • The monastery, now a massive complex, houses around 120 monks dedicated to a life of isolation, prayer, and worship in the desert, influencing Coptic institutions across Egypt.
  • Over the centuries, the monastery gained recognition as a pilgrimage destination, attracting visitors seeking spiritual healing. Improved accessibility in the 20th century led to a resurgence in popularity, with over a thousand visitors on holiday weekends.
  • Covering over 18 acres, the monastery features churches, a garden, a bakery, and a mill. Notable attractions include the Church of St. Anthony, the Church of the Apostles, the Church of the Virgin, the New Church, a library, a fort, and a guesthouse.
  • The Egyptian government initiated a restoration project in 2002, investing $14.5 million over eight years. This project included renovating living quarters, the main wall, a defensive tower, and two main churches, with archaeologists uncovering 4th-century ruins.
  • The Monastery of St. Anthony serves as a significant hub for Coptic Christians, with its accessibility leading to a revival of the monastic movement. It hosts spiritual retreats, youth initiatives, and religious conferences, drawing over a million visitors annually.

One of the most special and holy sites in Egypt is the great St Anthony Monastery, which has been located within an oasis in the eastern Sahara since the 4th century and is the oldest monastery on the planet. It was constructed by Saint Anthony's followers, who were the first Christian saint and the first to establish a monastic community in the Coptic age of Egypt. St Anthony Monastery is known as one of the most significant monasteries in Egypt and has a strong influence over the rest of the several Coptic institutions across Egypt.

Now, the monastery is a massive complex surrounded by tall walls with a number of smaller churches, a teeming garden, and a bakery. There are about 120 monks living there who dedicate their lives to seeking God in the isolation and motionless of the desert, totally focused on prayer and worship.

History of St Anthony Monastery

History of St Anthony Monastery - Egypt Tours Portal
History of St Anthony Monastery - Egypt Tours Portal

The monastery of St Anthony in Egypt was created in 356 AD by St. Anthony, who was considered the first person to establish Christian monasticism, which originated in the Egyptian desert. He focused on solitary living while having all the essential structures for worship and basic sustenance; over time, the followers shifted toward a more communal lifestyle, balancing safety and fellowship. During the 6th and 7th centuries, many monks from Wadi Natroun were under attack by Bedouin tribes so they moved to St. Anthony's monastery as a refuge for monks fleeing attacks, experiencing alternating occupation by different religious groups. With time, the area thrived, and a fortress was created around it for protection.

During the time of the Crusades, European travelers began exploring Egypt, documenting their visits to the Monastery of Saint Anthony. The site gained recognition as a pilgrimage destination, drawing visitors seeking spiritual healing and leaving inscriptions on its walls. Our Egypt spiritual tours offer a unique opportunity for modern travelers to connect with the rich history and enduring spiritual significance of this revered site. This monastery was stolen on various occasions and almost partly put in ruins during the 11th century. It grew in power and importance between the 12th & 15th centuries but was plundered again in 1454 AD by Bedouin servants. It was rebuilt by Syrian monks but fell into ruin again, relying on support from a nearby village. Throughout the following centuries, travelers sporadically visited, finding the monastery in disrepair, lacking even a proper entrance.

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In the 20th century, accessibility improved with the opening of roads, making the monastery more reachable, and a series of restoration projects. This led to an increase in visitors, both foreign and Egyptian, transforming it into a popular destination for religious retreats and family outings, marking a resurgence in its significance and popularity. Today, on holiday weekends, it welcomes over a thousand visitors, representing a revival of interest in this ancient spiritual site.

St Anthony Monastery Location

St Anthony Monastery is at the front of Khelsm Mountain, which looks over the Red Sea. It is believed to be located where St. Anthony once lived inside a cave as a monk. There are many ways to reach the monastery from the tropical city of Hurghada, which takes about a 3-hour drive. Everyone will head in the northwest direction, leading to Zaafarana, and then head to the monastery.

Tourism at St Anthony Monastery

Tourism at St Anthony Monastery - Egypt Tours Portal
Tourism at St Anthony Monastery - Egypt Tours Portal

The Monastery of St. Anthony is the largest monastery in all of Egypt. Where it covers an area of more than 18 acres, including a huge garden filled with countless fruits & vegetables. Inside the monastery are a number of artifacts, such as old paintings dating to the 7th, 8th, and 13th centuries.

St. Anthony Monastery is a village filled with gardens, a bakery, and a mill, plus five churches, the most known of which is St. Anthony's Church, which travelers from all over the world come to explore.

Best Attractions to See Inside St Anthony Monastery

Tourism at St Anthony Monastery - Egypt Tours Portal
Tourism at St Anthony Monastery - Egypt Tours Portal

1. The Church of St. Anthony

St Anthony Monastery dates to the 4th Century, is rectangular in shape, and measures 20 m by 10 m. It is divided into four sections: one for the monks, one for the priests, one for bishops, and the final for the elderly monks. All four parts are covered with three huge and colorful majestic domes plus a number of beautiful woodwork to St. Anthony.

2. The Church Of the Apostles

It is a little church with three altars, just like the main church; it has a rectangular shape and is divided into four sections, each of them is covered with a dome and connected to the Church of St. Anthony by a small corridor.

3. The Church Of the Virgin

It is built on the second floor of the monastery and is relatively small in size and is divided into three sections, each section is separated from the other by a wooden grille.

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4. The New Church

It dates back to the 19th Century A.D. and is the newest and biggest construction in the monastery. It was constructed with modern architectural designs and contains 12 rooms. The monks don't use it for prayer because the church is not fully guided towards the east, which goes against Coptic beliefs.

5. The Library

St Anthony Monastery used to have an enormous library filled with books and manuscripts. Unfortunately, most of this treasure of manuscripts was stolen by various 5th-century European invaders who desired to fill their cathedrals with manuscripts. It was estimated that what is left in the library was around 1,000 books and over 1,700 handwritten manuscripts that were transferred to Cairo for safety.

6. The Fort

This was a protection sanctuary fort for the monks in times of danger. It was constructed in the 6th century A.D. across 200 sqm. It has three floors, and the only door is located on the second floor, which makes it difficult to break into and offers more security in dangerous historical times.

7. The Guesthouse

The guesthouse was constructed in the 19th century and consists of 4 rooms and a long hall. Plus, it is equipped with lots of furniture and facilities, making it a great place to stay.

St Anthony Monastery Structure

St Anthony Monastery Structure - Egypt Tours Portal
St Anthony Monastery Structure - Egypt Tours Portal

The modern Monastery of Saint Anthony operates as a self-sufficient village featuring gardens, a bakery, a mill, and five churches. Its walls display paintings dating back centuries, adorned with knights and hermits in vibrant and muted colors. Collaborative restoration efforts between the American Research Center in Egypt and the Supreme Council of Antiquities focus on these aged paintings, ranging from the 7th and 8th centuries, while the newest one dates to the 13th century.

The Medieval Church of St. Anthony was built in the 12th century to have a central sanctuary with frescoes covering most walls and domes covered with fresco. It holds a small sanctuary devoted to the four beasts of the Apocalypse, along with historic depictions dating back to the 7th century. The adjoining Church of the Apostles was renovated in 1772 and houses ancient monks' cells discovered in 2005, which date back to the 4th century. Other churches within the monastery include the Church of St. Mark the Ascetic, which was renovated in the 15th century, and two tower-like structures housing the Church of the Virgin Mary and the Church of St. Michael.

The latter contains a substantial library initially intended as a church for Pope Cyril IV, now home to an extensive collection of Coptic manuscripts and printed books that amount to 1,863 volumes, though it suffered significant losses due to past plundering. Saint Anthony lived in a cave as a hermit, which lies 2km from the monastery, which is situated 680 meters above the Red Sea level, just in the southern part of Mount Galala. A winding trail leads to this small, natural rock hole, offering a glimpse into the secluded life of this revered figure in about an hour's hike.

St Anthony Monastery Restoration

St Anthony Monastery Restoration - Egypt Tours Portal
St Anthony Monastery Restoration - Egypt Tours Portal

The Egyptian Government in 2002 established an 8-year $14.5 million restoration project for the entire monastery. The workers renovated the monks' living quarters, the main surrounding wall of the monastery, a defensive tower, and two main churches. A sewage system was added during this restoration project. Archaeologists have restored many of the paintings found inside the church of Saint Anthony.

The archaeologists, during the renovations, were able to uncover the ruins of the 4th-century working quarters that were built by the original monks. The remains are covered by a glass floor, which can be seen by visitors and is now open to the entire public. 

St Anthony Monastery Monks

St Anthony Monastery Monks - Egypt Tours Portal
St Anthony Monastery Monks - Egypt Tours Portal

For various centuries, leaders within the Coptic tradition, patriarchs, metropolitans, and bishops were drawn from the ranks of desert monks. Anba Shenudah catalyzed a movement in the 1960s known as the Sunday School initiative. This movement encouraged educated young men to turn away from worldly pursuits, following in the footsteps of the desert fathers. This shift sparked a remarkable growth in the number of monks, tripling within the initial 25 years, and many of these dedicated ascetics were elevated to positions of bishops.

The monk population at the Monastery of Saint Anthony surged from 24 in 1960 to 69 in 1986, reaching around 120 monks and priests by 2010. Most monks were older than 50 and valued a sense of piety connected to a more anti-intellectual tradition that is reminiscent of figures like St. Macarius the Great and others who held humble occupations or were illiterate. Since the 1960s, with the revival of monasticism, there has been a reversal in this trend. Present-day monks are typically young, highly educated men with diverse backgrounds in fields such as engineering, medicine, pharmacy, and architecture. As of 1991, Bishop Yostos held the esteemed positions of both bishop and abbot at the Monastery of Saint Anthony.

Popes from the Monastery of St. Anthony:

  • Pope Gabriel VI (1466–1474)
  • Pope John XV (1619–1629)
  • Pope Mark VI (1646–1656)
  • Pope John XVI (1676–1718)
  • Pope Peter VI (1718–1726)
  • Pope John XVII (1727–1745)
  • Pope Mark VII (1745–1769)
  • Pope John XVIII (1769–1796)
  • Pope Mark VIII (1796–1809)
  • Pope Peter VII (1809–1852)
  • Pope Cyril IV (1854–1861)
  • Pope Joseph II (1946–1956)

St Anthony Monastery Significance For Coptic Christians

St Anthony Monastery Significance For Coptic Christians - Egypt Tours Portal
St Anthony Monastery Significance For Coptic Christians - Egypt Tours Portal

During the reign of Patriarch Anba Kirillus VI (1959–1971), the monastic movement in Egypt underwent an extraordinary revival that greatly invigorated the spiritual essence of the Coptic church. A pivotal transformation occurred with the construction of a desert road leading to the monastery, breaking its geographical seclusion and making it easily accessible to the public. What was once isolated has now become a sought-after pilgrimage destination, reachable within a few hours by bus or car from major cities.

This accessibility has drawn over a million visitors annually, encompassing both Egyptian Christians and international travelers. It held exclusive ascetic roles, which has evolved into a hub for Coptic Christians by hosting spiritual retreats, youth initiatives, and religious conferences. It serves as a vibrant center where believers can congregate, organize, and engage in various programs. Individuals can reach this monastery conveniently from major Egyptian cities like Cairo, Suez, or Hurghada, marking a significant shift from its historical seclusion.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How Old is the Monastery of Saint Anthony?

The monastery of Saint Anthony is found in the eastern desert of Egypt and dates back more than 1700 years to the 4th century AD. The entire monastery is considered the oldest continuously inhabited monastery in the world dedicated to the father of monasticism Saint Anthony.

What is St. Anthony of Egypt Known for?

Saint Anthony is famous for advocating his asceticism and is one of the fathers of modern Christian monasticism. He withdrew to the desert, where he lived a life of extreme austerity, prayer, and solitude. He's often credited as the pioneer of the monastic movement who inspired many to follow a similar path of spiritual dedication. His teachings on resisting temptation led to a life of prayer and a winning battle against inner demons, which have profoundly influenced Christian spirituality.

What Are the Finest Destinations to Visit in Egypt?

The entire country of Egypt deserve to be explored with its every heavenly detail but there are places that must be seen before any other such as the breathtaking Hurghada's red sea, The wonders of Cairo the pyramids of Giza, the great sphinx, the Egyptian Museum, Khan El Khalili Bazaar, the wonders of Luxor like Valley of the Kings, Karnak & Hatshepsut temple and the wonders of Aswan such as Abu Simbel temples, Philea temple, Unfinished obelisk and The Wonders of Alexandria like Qaitbat Citadel, Pompey's Pillar and Alexandria Library. Read more about the best places to visit in Egypt.

What Are Egypt's Visa Requirements?

If you want to apply for a Visa On Arrival that lasts for 30 days then you should be one of the eligible countries, have a valid passport with at least 6 months remaining and pay 25$ USD in cash, as for the E-Visa for 30 day you should have a valid passport for at least 8 months, complete the online application, pay the e-visa fee then print the e-visa to later be presented to the airport border guard. You could also be one of the lucky ones who can obtain a free visa for 90 days. Read more about Egypt travel visa.

What Is the Top Traditional Egyptian Food?

Egypt has a variety of delicious cuisines but we recommend “Ful & Ta’meya (Fava Beans and Falafel)”, Mulukhiya, “Koshary”, a traditional Egyptian pasta dish, and Kebab & Kofta, the Egyptian traditional meat dish.

What is the Best Time to Visit Egypt?

The best time to travel to Egypt is during the winter from September to April as the climate becomes a little tropical accompanied by a magical atmosphere of warm weather with a winter breeze. You will be notified in the week of your trip if the Climate is unsafe and if any changes have been made.

What to Pack for Your Egypt Tour?

You should pack everything you could ever need in a small bag so you could move easily between your destinations.

Why Book With "Egypt Tours Portal"?

We have been creating the finest vacations for more than 20 years around the most majestic destinations in Egypt. Our staff consists of the best operators, guides and drivers who dedicate all of their time & effort to make you have the perfect vacation. All of our tours are customized by Travel, Financial & Time consultants to fit your every possible need during your vacation. It doesn't go without saying that your safety and comfort are our main priority and all of our resources will be directed to provide the finest atmosphere until you return home.

Is it Safe to Travel to Egypt?

You will feel safe in Egypt as the current atmosphere of the country is quite peaceful after the government took powerful measures like restructuring the entire tourist police to include all the important and tourist attractions in Egypt. Read more about is it safe to travel to Egypt.

What to Wear While in Egypt?

Wear whatever feels right and comfortable. It is advised to wear something light and comfortable footwear like a closed-toe shoe to sustain the terrain of Egypt. Put on sun block during your time in Egypt in the summer to protect yourself from the sun.

What are the Best Activities to Do in Egypt?

The best activity is by far boarding a Nile Cruise between Luxor and Aswan or Vise Versa. Witness the beauty of Egypt from a hot balloon or a plane and try all the delicious Egyptian cuisines and drinks plus shopping in old Cairo. Explore the allure and wonders of the red sea in the magical city resorts of Egypt like Hurghada and many more by diving and snorkeling in the marine life or Hurghada. Behold the mesmerizing western desert by a safari trip under the heavenly Egyptian skies.

What are Egypt Festival and Public Holidays?

There are a lot of public holidays in Egypt too many to count either religious or nation, the most important festivals are the holy month of Ramadan which ends with Eid Al Fitr, Christmas and new years eve. Read more about festivals & publich holidays in Egypt.

What are Special Advice for Foreign Women in Egypt?

Egypt is considered to be one of the most liberal Islamic countries but it has become a little bit conservative in the last couple of decades so it is advised to avoid showing your chest, shoulders or legs below the knees.

What are the Official Languages of Egypt?

Arabic is the official language and Most Egyptians, who live in the cities, speak or understand English or at least some English words or phrases. Fewer Egyptians can speak French, Italian, Spanish, and German. Professional tour guides, who work in the tourism sector, are equipped to handle visitors who cannot speak Arabic and they will speak enough English and other languages to fulfill the needs of all our clients.

What is the Transportation in Egypt?

The fastest way is a car, of course, a taxi. If you are in Cairo ride a white taxi to move faster or you could board the fastest way of transportation in Egypt metro if the roads are in rush hour.

What is the Weather is Like?

The temperature in Egypt ranges from 37c to 14 c. Summer in Egypt is somehow hot but sometimes it becomes cold at night and winter is cool and mild. The average of low temperatures vary from 9.5 °C in the wintertime to 23 °C in the summertime and the average high temperatures vary from 17 °C in the wintertime to 32 °C in the summertime. The temperature is moderate all along the coasts.

What are the Reasons That Make You Visit Egypt?

It is the home of everything a traveler might be looking for from amazing historical sites dating to more than 4000 years to enchanting city resorts & beaches. You will live the vacation you deserve as Egypt has everything you could possibly imagine.

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