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St. Anthony

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Where monasticism began

St. Anthony's monastery, Egypt

St. Anthony's monastery, Egypt

The monastery of St. Anthony dates back to the 4th century, and is the largest monastery of Egypt. It rests out here in a desolate place, perfectly fit for the asceticism from which monasticism grew forth.
St. Antony retreated into the desert in 294, according to the legend, he was then 43 years old and searching for absolute loneliness. St. Anthony retreated in a cave in the mountains, at a place where a spring brought enough water to sustain life. Within few years his fame would attract more people joing this loneliness, and a community of ascetics was established at the foot of the mountain beneath Anthony's cave. Again according to the legend, Anthony died at the age of 105.
The community survived Bedouin and Muslim raids, but it would be the monks' own servants that ended the continuity in the 15th century, when all the monks were massacred.
The spring here produces 100 cubic metres of water every day, and olives, dates and a few crops are grown here.
The oldest part of the existing structure is the Church of St. Anthony, which is built over the saint's tomb. The church has the more Coptic wall paintings than any other building in Egypt.
Today, there are about 60 monks living here, as well as 5 novices.
The Cave of St. Anthony can be reached starting from the monastery. It is about 300 metres and 1158 wooden steps up the cliff, and it usually takes about an hour to get there. Inside the cave there is a small chapel with an altar. Note the centuries old graffiti on the walls.

St. Anthony's monastery, Egypt

Eat and Sleep
If you ask for permission from the church headquarters in Cairo, you can spend the night in the monastery. This appears still to be theoretically, as few independent travellers get such a permission.

Unless you join an organized tour, or have your own vehicle, reaching this monastery is a bit difficult. There are buses passing by the road between Beni Suef and Zafarana, and from this main road it is a 13 km walk to reach the monastery.

Admission is free. The monatery is open 9.00-17.00, except during Lent.

Going Next
80 km east: St. Paul

By Tore Kjeilen