The Monastery of Saint Paul is an incredibly important historic site and it’s the second ancient Coptic Christian monastery tucked away in the Eastern Desert of Egypt.
In the eastern Sahara Desert, or Red Sea Desert, of Egypt are several religious sites that draw many travelers. The most well-known is the monastery built over the resting place of the famed Saint Anthony, Monastery of Saint Anthony, but the lesser known Monastery of Saint Paul is equally as intriguing and interesting as well.
Saint Anthony the Great is said to have lived to the age of one hundred and five, and served as the inspiration for the concept of monasticism, but his mentor is believed to have been Saint Paul the Anchorite who lived to be one hundred and thirteen, and who had actually inspired Saint Anthony to seek his monastic and solitary lifestyle. In fact, the story of the Monastery of Saint Paul and his death describes Saint Anthony’s presence at the scene and how he was assisted in the burial by two lions.
The Fortress like Structure
Little has changed at the Monastery of Saint Paul over the course of many centuries, and today it still contains three churches and is a good example of the fortress like structures that were required of the Christian monasteries of Egypt. Continually being raided and plundered by groups of Bedouins and Berbers, many of the monks constructed walls and towers as defensive measures, and the Monastery of Saint Paul was not spared that need.
In fact, the Monastery of Saint Paul suffered its most catastrophic attack in 1484, when the monks were murdered and the ancient library burnt. Less than one hundred years later it was rebuilt, but again viciously attacked several times, and the monks fled. Sadly, they would not return and the monastery would experience a one hundred and twenty year abandonment before Pope John XVI of Alexandria dedicated the funds and resources to its complete reconstruction in the early 1700s.
What to See?
In 2006 the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt completed their own lengthy renovations of the monastery and opened it again for public visitation. Travelers should tour all three churches, that of Saint Paul the Anchorite which was dug underground into the cave where Saint Paul lived his hermetic life. There are also the churches of Saint Mercurius and that of the Archangel Michael as well.
Visitors may also view some of the manuscripts in the possession of the monastery, which includes a Coptic language version of the “Divine Liturgy”. A tour of the site may include a trip up the tower, and a glimpse at the “Pool of Mary” where Mary, the sister of Moses, washed her feet during the Exodus. The Monastery of Saint Paul is quite possibly the most impressive structure in the Sahara, for this reason, it is included in several Egypt desert tours.