7 Most Beautiful Coptic Orthodox Monasteries in Egypt
Modern Egypt is known for being a Muslim country, but what many don’t know is that Ancient Egypt was where one of the oldest Christian faiths in the world took root. According to the New Testament, Egypt was a safe haven for the Holy Family who fled from Jerusalem and King Herold in what is known as ‘The Flight into Egypt’. You can still visit spots up and down Egypt where the Holy Family lived, rested and wandered.
From the 1st century AD, early Christianity began to flourish in Egypt and evolve alongside the culture and language of Ancient Egypt, eventually cultivating into the Coptic Orthodox Church, which is still practiced today.
Some of these ancient monasteries, dating back to the 4th century, are some of the oldest still-standing Christian monasteries in the world. We’ve also included some of our newer but incredibly beautiful Coptic Orthodox monasteries.
ICYMI: what exactly is the difference between a church and a monastery? A church is a place of public worship, while a monastery is where a private group of believers (monks) live and dedicate their lives to religion and worship.
The Red Monastery
Established: 4th century AD
The exact history around this mysterious monastery on the outskirts of Sohag in Upper Egypt is unknown, although it’s considered one of the most famous Coptic monasteries in Egypt. It had fallen into ruin until 2003 when the American Research Center in Egypt undertook a restoration project. According to ARCE: “Nowhere else in Egypt do we know of a monument of the late antique and early Byzantine period whose architectural sculpture is in situ up to the highest level of the building.”
Garnering its name from the red burnt brick construction materials on its exterior, the Red Monastery is a neighbor to the White Monastery, built around the same time and worth a visit as well.
You can take a virtual tour of the Red Monastery and 21 other awesome sites in Egypt here.
St. Simon the Tanner Monastery (Cave Church)
Location: Moqattam, Cairo
This awesome cave church (or technically, ‘churches’ -- the St. Simon monastery complex has seven churches) is unlike anything else we have in Egypt.
Carved into the Moqattam Hills, the main monastery hall can hold over 20,000 people and was named after the Coptic Saint Simon, who, according to legend, moved the Moqattam mountain in 979 AD as proof of the strength of his beliefs.
The cave church was built by the Zabbaleen community of Cairo’s Garbage City, and today is not only a religious spot but an educational center, kindergarten and school for the deaf.
St. Catherine’s Monastery
Location: Mount Sinai, Sinai Peninsula
Established: 6th century AD
Part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site (for other Egyptian heritage sites, head here), the Orthodox Saint Catherine Monastery is the oldest Christian monastery in the world still used for its original function.
According to UNESCO: “Its walls and buildings are of great significance to studies of Byzantine architecture and the Monastery houses outstanding collections of early Christian manuscripts and icons. The rugged mountainous landscape, containing numerous archaeological and religious sites and monuments, forms a perfect backdrop to the Monastery.”
St. Catherine's Monastery is at the foot of Mt. Sinai, where it's believed by the Abrahamic religions that Moses found the Burning Bush and received the 10 Commandments.
St. Anthony’s Monastery
Location: Red Sea mountains, near Zafaraana (before Hurghada)
Established: 356 AD
St. Anthony was one of the most famous “Desert Fathers”, a group of Christian monks who lived in the Eastern Egyptian desert in the 3rd century.
He was roaming the desert when he came across an oasis surrounded by trees, and it was in this spot that he was later buried and his monastery built a few years later.
Today St. Anthony’s Monastery is the oldest inhabited Christian monastery in the world and is home to paintings dating back to the 7th and 8th centuries, as well as 1,700 ancient documents.