Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1128, 27 December 2012 - 2 January 2013
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1128, 27 December 2012 - 2 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

Red Monastery goes on World Heritage list

ISESCO has added Egypt’s Red Monastery to its prestigious Heritage List for the Islamic World, writes Michael Adel

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, ISESCO, is to add the Red Monastery in Sohag to its World Heritage List for the Islamic World. The move comes in recognition of Egypt’s ancient civilisation and the country’s many outstanding monuments.
The decision was taken during ISESCO’s General Conference held last month in Tunisia. Osama Al-Nahhas, director-general of the Antiquities Repatriation Section at the Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA), told Al-Ahram Weekly that this was the first time any Egyptian monument had been approved and placed on the ISESCO list, where it will stand alongside the city of Jerusalem.
The monastery is located in the region that in ancient times was called Adriba, today Al-Gabal Al-Gharbi or the Western Mountain. It lies in Sohag governorate about four kilometres north of the Monastery of St Shenouda the Archimandrite, also known as the White Monastery, and about 11km west of the town of Sohag. The monastery is overseen by Bishop Yoanas, the Coptic bishop of public and social services.
The Red Monastery was at the heart of a large monastic community in an area known as an important centre of ascetic life in the fifth century. It is an astonishingly rare example of the artistic intensity of late antiquities monuments in Egypt. It was so-called because of the red granite taken from nearby Pharaonic temples and used in its construction. Considered one of the most important monuments of the Coptic period, it was built in the fourth century and modelled on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. According to the late Pope Shenouda III, “anyone who has not visited Jerusalem must visit the Red Monastery in Sohag, since going there is like going to Jerusalem.”
The Red Monastery also borrows from ancient Egyptian architecture, with the outside of the building resembling a Pharaonic temple in its rectangular form. The outer walls slant upwards, and the carvings on the outer gates are also inspired by those on ancient Egyptian temples. The grandeur of Coptic art is showcased in the ancient icons kept at the Red Monastery, such as the icon of the Holy Eucharist, the icon of the Cross, and the icon of the Net in the Sea showing a spiral net with circles representing fish and a dove representing the Holy Spirit. The monastery also possesses an icon of the Last Supper dating from the 18th century and other ancient icons.
Extensive restoration work is underway at the Red Monastery, including the construction of a surrounding wall around it covering a large area. The monastery now has a four-storey lodge for visitors, as well as a farm, meeting hall, tile workshop, pharmacy and library.
A church in the monastery grounds is named after St Karas the Anchorite, while another church on the monastery farm is named after saints Bishay and Bigol.
UNESCO has earmarked LE30 million to renovate the monastery in cooperation with South Valley University and make it into an important tourist destination.
The American Research Centre in Egypt has administered a major conservation campaign, art historical study and publication on the Red Monastery church sanctuary. The wall painting conservation carried out by Luigi De Cesaris and Alberto Sucato has continued to reveal new and unexpected surprises. The tri-conch basilica includes four phases of late antiquities painting, and at least one from the mediaeval period.
In the spring of 2010, conservators under the direction of Elizabeth Bolman of Temple University began preliminary work on the eastern semi-dome of the sanctuary. The heads of two angels belonging to separate phases of work in the church were selected for test cleaning.

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