The First Monastery

St. Paul’s Monastery, Eastern Desert, Egypt

From Hurghada and St. Paul

I mentioned before that the Copts of Egypt invented monasticism. Halfway back up the Red Sea Coast, we hung a left into the mountains for a stop at the world’s first Christian monastery, St. Paul’s. The original monastery didn’t have any ground-level doors, to protect it from attacks by marauding Bedouin raiders. Instead, you’d ring a bell and wait for the monks to lower down a basket to lift you up to the top of the wall, or a basket full of food and water to help you on your way.

From Hurghada and St. Paul

The story goes that Paul, son of a rich man, became disillusioned with a life of wealth and exploitation, gave it all up, and went out into the Eastern Desert with only the clothes on his back. He settled in a cave near a spring, fashioned a robe for himself out of palm fibers, and God provided him with half a loaf of bread delivered by a raven every day. We went to his cave and shrine first.

From Hurghada and St. Paul

Tradition also has it that St. Anthony was leading an ascetic life, and was directed in a dream to go to St. Paul in the desert. On that day, the raven delivered a whole loaf of bread for their dinner. But St. Anthony could see that the old man was dying, and St. Paul sent St. Anthony to get the cloak of the bishop for his burial. When St. Anthony returned, St. Paul had died, on his knees in prayer. When St. Anthony, an old man himself, couldn’t dig the grave, two lions came out of the desert and dug it for him. St. Anthony buried St. Paul in the bishop’s fine cloak, and thereafter wore St. Paul’s palm fiber robe on all church holidays. It was St. Anthony who founded the monastery here, and St. Anthony’s Monastery at the next closest spring.

From Hurghada and St. Paul

As always, many more details are in the captions of my Web Album.

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