The Ancient Monastic Cells of Saint Anthony Monastery

The ancient cells where monks once lived were discovered under floors of a church

Church of Holy Apostles (1996) by Robert K. Vincent Jr.American Research Center In Egypt (ARCE)

Coptic Church Chanting During the Liturgy

The Monastery in the Mountains

Tucked away in Egypt's Eastern desert near the Red Sea, is Saint Anthony's Monastery, one of the oldest monasteries in the world that has supported a community of monks for almost 2,000 years. 

Ancient Beginnings

Christianity came to Egypt in the 1st Century AD and the Copts are one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East.

St. Anthony (1998-12) by Michael JonesAmerican Research Center In Egypt (ARCE)

The Original Monk

Followers of Saint Anthony of Egypt (c. 251-356 AD) were the first Christian monks and built the Monastery of Saint Anthony and many others throughout Egypt.

Entrance to the Monastery of St. Anthony (2008-01) by LorisRomitoAmerican Research Center In Egypt (ARCE)

Monastic Traditions

The monastery has been home to a community of monks for thousands of years. Even as the outside world changes and the monastery adopts to modern life, they have remained dedicated to their life of prayer, contemplation, and humility.

Conservators at Work (1996-12) by Patrick GodeauAmerican Research Center In Egypt (ARCE)

Between 2004 and 2009, conservation work was carried on the paintings and buildings throughout this historic monastic complex.

Church of the Holy Apostles (2005) by Michael JonesAmerican Research Center In Egypt (ARCE)

An Unexpected Discovery

Structural work at Church of the Holy Apostles led to a surprising discovery...

Monastic Cells (2006-06-29) by Kai-Christian BruhnAmerican Research Center In Egypt (ARCE)

Structural Surprise

Underneath was an earlier church structure, but, below that, a group of even earlier monastic cells. These rooms would have been the living quarters of some of the earliest monks who resided at the monastery.

Father Maximous el-Antony, one of the monks at the monastery, discusses the discovery and display of the monastic cells. This video was created by Heritage Key.

Monastic Cells (2006-06-29) by Kai-Christian BruhnAmerican Research Center In Egypt (ARCE)

Glimpse into the Past

The group of small rooms were built with sun dried mudbricks and objects of everyday use, like pottery, which helped date the cells to the Fatimid period (969 – 1181 CE). 

Monastic Cells (2006-06-29) by Kai-Christian BruhnAmerican Research Center In Egypt (ARCE)

In the first phase, the rooms were primarily dormitories, but expanded in a second phase to include a bakery and even an area for livestock.  

Saint Anthony Historic Cell (2005-09-28) by Kenneth GarrettAmerican Research Center In Egypt (ARCE)

Eventually, the rooms were abandoned, and the ruins were filled in to provide a stable base for the church that was built over them. That church likely became unstable and was demolished in the 14th century. The church built over these ruins is the one that remains standing today.  

Monastic Cells (2006-06-29) by Kai-Christian BruhnAmerican Research Center In Egypt (ARCE)

Surprise Artefacts

The structures were cleaned and stabilized, and the excavators discovered pottery, ovens, an original door, and inscriptions on the walls. The finds were conserved and can now be seen in the monastery museum.  

Floor over Monastic Cells (2007-06-27) by Project Staff PhotographerAmerican Research Center In Egypt (ARCE)

Interview with Father Maximus el-Anthony

Preserved and Protected

Father Maximus el-Antony describes the glass floor that was installed over the area to protect these ancient monastic cells while still making the space accessible to tourists and pilgrims.  

Amazing Artifacts

Everyday objects discovered in the cells are now on display in the monastery's museum.

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Credits: Story

The project in the Monastery of St. Anthony at the Red Sea was sponsored by American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) Egyptian Antiquities Conservation Project with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in collaboration with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. 

Created by Tessa Litecky and Elisabeth Koch, ARCE 
Visit ARCE at 

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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