Egypt's antiquities chief on Thursday unveiled the completion of an 8-year, $14.5 million restoration of the world's oldest Christian monastery, touting it as a sign of Christian-Muslim coexistence.
The announcement at the 1,600-year-old St. Anthony's Monastery came a month after Egypt's worst incident of sectarian violence in over a decade, when a shooting on a church on Orthodox Christmas Eve killed seven people.
The attack raised heavy criticism of the Egyptian government abroad and at home, by critics who say it has not done enough to address tensions between the country's Muslim majority and its Christian population, estimated at 10 percent of the 79 million population.
The government insists the shooting was a purely criminal act with no sectarian motives, and officials persistently deny the existence of significant Muslim-Christian frictions.
Top archaeologist Zahi Hawass took the opportunity to reiterate that stance as he showed journalists the work at St. Anthony's, an ancient compound at the foot of the desert mountains near Egypt's Red Sea coast.
African Press Agency
The Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, Zahi Hawas revealed on Thursday the discovery of the oldest Coptic antique under St. Anthony’s Church, ( a cell for monks ) dating back to 400 AD with paintings in the ancient Coptic language, at the oldest monastery in the world.
The discovery was made at the completion of a comprehensive restoration and rehabilitation of St. Anthony’s Monastery, situated in Zafarana, about 100 kilometres south-east of Cairo, near Egypt’s Red Sea coast. The renovation lasted nine years and cost 80 million Egyptian pounds ($14.5 million).
Experts say the restoration and discovery of the cells for the monks sheds important light on the early years of monasticism and bolsters the country’s long monastic tradition.
They added that it unveils a missing part of the history of Christianity in Egypt since there is nothing written about the beginning of the monastery.