Sunday, March 22, 2009

This is what The Lonely Planet Travel Survival Kit has to say about the Monastery at St. Anthony:

Hidden away in the barren cliffs of the Eastern desert, the fortified religious community of St. Anthony's represented the beginning of the Christian monastic tradition. Built in the4th century AD by the disciples of St. Anthony, the walled village at the foot of the Gebel al-Galala al Quibliya is the largest of the Coptic monasteries.

This founding monastic order sprang up around the son of a merchant who had given up his worldly possessions to devote his life to God. Anthony actually retreated into the desert, in about 294AD, to escape the disciples he had attracted to his hermit's cave by the Nile. While his followers adopted an austere communal life at the foot of the mountain, Anthony took himself off to a cave, high above the developing monastery village, where he lived to the ripe old age of 105.

Despite is isolation, the monastery suffered Bedouin raids in the 8th and 9th centuries, attacks from irate Muslims in the 11th century and a 15th century revolt by bloodthirsty servants that resulted in the massacre of the monks.

Following the example set by St. Anthony, St. Paul and their followers 16 centuries ago, the 25 monks and five novices who live at St. Anthony's today have dedicated their lives to poverty, chastity, obedience and prayer.

St. Anthony's has several churches, chapels, dormitories, a guesthouse, bakery, vegetable garden and a spring. The oldest part of the monastery is the Church of St. Anthony, built over the saint's tomb.

If you're hiking from the main road make sure you're properly equipped, especially with water, as it's a long, hot and dry walk. If you do get this far you should also hike up to the Cave of St. Anthony, which is north-east of the monastery. the medieval graffiti on the walls is fascinating and there is a breathtaking view of the hills and valley below.

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