August 8, 2005

Renovators in Egypt say they find oldest monk cell

CAIRO (Reuters) - Renovators working in an ancient Egyptian
monastery have unearthed the oldest example of a building
housing Christian monks, a member of the restoration project
near the country's Red Sea coast told Reuters on Monday.

The cell, a building that served as the living quarters for
monks, dates from between the fourth and fifth centuries and
will help shed light on the early days of monastic life, said
Father Maximous, a monk working at the site.

"It is the oldest physical evidence of a cell from that age
... It's the oldest in the Christian world," said Maximous, who
works on restoring Coptic monuments.

The renovators had been repairing paintings inside a
fifteenth century church on the site of St. Anthony's
Monastery, founded in the mid-fourth century by disciples of
one of Christianity's most influential hermits.

St. Anthony, who lived between the third and fourth
centuries, is credited with developing regulated monastic life.
Before him, individual hermits lived solitary lives dedicated
to prayer and contemplation.

The renovators also found an eighth century church on the
same site.

Historical texts make mention of the early monks living at
the site but no archeological evidence had previously been
found from before the sixth century, Maximous said.

The cell is a collection of rooms with private living areas
and a central communal room, where the team found cooking
implements, he said.

St. Anthony's Monastery, 100 miles south west of Cairo, is
one of the Christian world's oldest monasteries.