The Monastery of Saint Paul, the Anchorite in Egypt, is a Coptic Orthodox monastery located in the Eastern Desert, near the Red Sea Mountains. More precisely, it is about 155 km (96 mi) southeast of Cairo. The monastery is also known as the Monastery of the Tigers.
Location of Monastery of Saint Paul the Anchorite
Monastery of Saint Paul the Anchorite lies in Ras Gharib, Red Sea Governorate.
Foundation and history
The Monastery of Saint Paul the Anchorite dates to the fourth century AD. Early Christians founded it over the cave where Paul lived for more than eighty years. Antoninus Martyr provided the first travel narrative of the monastery, a native of Placentia, who visited the tomb of Paul the Anchorite between the years 560 and 570 AD.
The first monks to occupy the monastery were some of the disciples of Anthony the Great. After they knew the story of Paul the Anchorite, Melkites occupied the place for a short period. However, Egyptians and Syrian monks again followed them to this place. According to an isolated Ethiopian reference, the 70th Coptic Orthodox Pope, Gabriel II (1131–45 AD), was banished to the monastery of Saint Paul the Anchorite for three years.
The Syrians may have had a sustained existence at the monastery, for it appears that they also occupied the sanctuary during the first half of the fifteenth century, after which their presence disappeared.
History from the 15th Century
Like most of Egypt’s monasteries, this one repeatedly suffered at the hands of Bedouin tribes. The most destructive raids were in 1484 AD. The Bedouins killed many of the monastery’s monks and put the library to the torch by then. Later, Christians rebuilt the monastery under Pope Gabriel VII of Alexandria (1526–69 AD). The Pope sent ten monks from the Syrian monastery to populate the monastery of Saint Paul, the Anchorite.
During the second half of the sixteenth century, the monastery was again attacked and ransacked twice by the Bedouins, forcing the monks to leave finally. The monastery remained deserted for the following 119 years, only to be repopulated by a group of monks from the Monastery of Saint Anthony under the patronage of Pope John XVI of Alexandria (1676–1718 AD). He promoted an extensive reconstruction of the monastery in 1701 AD.
The modern monastery has three different churches. That of Saint Paul, the Anchorite, built underground, was initially dug into the cave where the saint lived and where his remains exist. The two other churches carry the names after Saint Mercurius and Archangel Michael. The high walls built during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries surround the monastery. It also has a tower (keep), an ancient refectory and a mill. There is also a spring. Believers think this spring fitted Saint Paul the Anchorite during eighty years of seclusion in this area. There is also a second spring, the Pool of Mary, named after Mary, the sister of Moses. Believers think that she washed her feet there during the Exodus.
Moreover, this monastery has many illustrated manuscripts, including the Coptic version of the Divine Liturgy and the Commentary of the Epistle to Titus by Saint John Chrysostom.
Bishop Daniel, Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Paul, was born in 1959. Then, he was consecrated as a monk at the Monastery of Saint Paul in 1983 and later ordained priest in 1985. In 1997 Father Daniel was elevated to Hegumen and appointed deputy of the monastery. Pope Shenouda III ordained him bishop and abbot of the monastery in 2006.
The late Bishop Agathon, the previous abbot of the Monastery of Saint Paul, was born in 1922. First, the Monastery of the Virgin Mary El Sorian consecrated him as a monk in 1958. Then, in 1972 Pope Shenouda III ordinated Agathon as a bishop and then appointed abbot of the Monastery of Saint Paul in 1974. However, Father Agathon has ordained priest in 1963 and elevated to Hegumen in 1965. Afterwards, the Orthodox Church promoted him to Metropolitan in 1991. Father Agathon died in 1999.
The monastery consists of four churches.
Ancient Cave church of Saint Paul
This cave church is unique in its architecture and decoration. The church consists of two parts: an interior and an exterior.
The early monks cut the interior part of the rock and had natural caves. The oldest part consists of the cave of Saint Paul and his cenotaph. Later, they enlarged this ancient part and dug out a nave and a corridor with a staircase. None of them contains now paintings.
In the 18th century, Christians restored this cave church and extended it with the exterior part of three domed rooms, constructed on its northern side. Copts dedicated these sanctuaries to the twenty-four elders of Revelation, Saint Paul, and Saint Anthony. This restoration took place in 1713. By then, monks created a new staircase in the west room, Dome of the Martyre. The church is now accessible via this staircase.
The paintings on the walls of the cave date to the same restoration work, portraying biblical subjects such as the archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, as well as the angel and Aniel’s three companions, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, respectively, called Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego by the officer of King Nebuchadnezzar.