The world's oldest monastery has had a facelift to smooth out the cracks. Nevine El-Aref sees what the conservationists have been up to
“If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven; and come, follow me.” Way back in the third century, a man from Upper Egypt named Anthony took these words of Jesus quite literally and turned his life upside down. In 285, at the age of 34, Anthony gave away some of his family’s estate to his neighbours and sold the remaining property, donating the funds thus raised to the poor. He placed his unmarried sister with a group of Christian virgins in a type of proto-nunnery, and he himself became the disciple of a local hermit.
Leaving the place of his birth, he headed towards the settlement of town Zafarana on the Red Sea coast. There he took up a residence in a cave at the foot of the nearby mountains, with little more than a spring and a cluster of date palms to sustain him. Anthony now dedicated his life to trying to implement the words of Jesus, and he became the first known Christian ascetic and the spiritual father of all monks. Upon his death in 356, his followers built cells for themselves which formed the core of what was to become a large monastery bearing the saint’s name.
If anyone is interested I've written a short "armchair introduction" to the Coptic religion on one of my other blogs.