• Local's Guide To Egypt

7 Most Beautiful Coptic Orthodox Monasteries in Egypt

Updated: Nov 17, 2020

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

Location: Sohag

Established: 500 - 525 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.”

Photo credit: Michael Jones

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

Established: 1975

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.

Monastery of St. Paul the Anchorite

Location: Red Sea mountains, near Zafaraana (before Hurghada)

Established: 4th century AD

This monastery was built over the cave where St. Paul the Anchorite lived for 80 years in Egypt’s eastern desert, and is also known as ‘the Monastery of the Tigers’ for unclear reasons; some theorize it’s due to its remote location in the desert, but tigers aren’t exactly known to be prancing up and down Egypt (even in ancient times), but oh well.

Beduoin tribes attacked the monastery in 1484, killed the monks and burned down their library. It was rebuilt by Patriarch Gabriel VII, who sent monks from the Syrian Monastery (in the Wadi el Natrun monasteries, below) but it was attacked twice after, causing the monks to flee to St. Anthony’s Monastery and not return.

Wadi Natrun Monasteries

Location: Wadi Natrun Valley, northwest of Cairo

Established: 4th century AD

More than 1600 years ago, Saint Macarius of Egypt decided to build his monastery in the Natrun valley, known for its large alkali lakes. This attracted the attention of other Christian monks and hermits, who then decided to settle in Natrun as well, establishing four large early Christian developments.

The four Wadi Natrun Coptic monasteries that are still active to this day are:

  • The Monastery of Saint Macarius

  • The Monastery of Saint Bishoy

  • The Paromeos Monastery

  • The Syrian Monastery

All of the four can be seen and visited until today free of charge, but leaving a donation is always helpful in preserving these historic sites.

Monastery of St. Mena

Photo credit: Nardine Saber Soliman

Location: western desert outside of Alexandria

Established: 1959

This monastery was built near the ruins of Abu Mena, one of the seven UNESCO World Heritage sites in Egypt. Abu Mena is the remnants of an early Coptic Christian holy city, built over the tomb of the martyr Menas of Alexandria, around 50 km south of modern-day Alexandria. It’s believed that Menas died in either the late 3rd or early 4th century. Not much remains standing in the ancient Christian city today besides the foundation of some of its great buildings.

Photo credit: Andrew Shenouda

In 1959, then-Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria put down the foundations of a monastery next to the ancient Coptic city ruins, and it has since grown into one of the most famous monasteries in Egypt. Thousands of pilgrims travel to St. Mena’s Monastery yearly for spiritual and physical healing.

You might also like: 9 Egyptian Churches, Cathedrals and Monasteries You Need to Visit at Least Once

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Hi and thanks for visiting! We're a group of Egyptian locals who love to share our insider info with travelers when it comes to all things Egypt.

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