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The monastery of Saint Paul

The monastery of St Paul has always been overshadowed by St Anthonyís. Its titular founder was only sixteen when he fled Alexandria to escape Emperor Deciusís persecutions, making him the earliest known hermit. Shortly before his death in 348, Paul was visited by Anthony and begged him to bring the rope of Pope Athanasius, for Paul to be buried in. Anthony departed to fetch this, but on the way back had a vision of Paulís soul being carried up to heaven by angels and arrived to find him dead. While Anthony was wondering what to do, two lions appeared and dug a cave for the body, so Anthony shrouded it in the robe and took Paulís tunic of palm leaves as a gift for the pope, who subsequently wore it at Christmas, Epiphany and Easter.

The monastery, called also Deir Anba Bula , was a form of posthumous homage by Paulís followers: its turreted walls are built around the cave where he lived for decades. To a large extent, its fortunes have followed those of its more prestigious neighbour. In 1484 all its monks were slain by the Bedouin, who occupied St Paulís for eighty years, rebuilt by Patriarch Gabriel VII, it was again destroyed near the end of the sixteenth century. The monastery is smaller than that of St Anthony and a little more primitive-looking. In its main church of St Paul, the murals, too, are less fluid Ė though better preserved. The southern sanctuary of the larger Church of St Michael contains a gilded icon of the head of John the Baptist on a dish. When Bedouin raided the monastery, its monks retreated into the five-storey keep, supplied with spring water by a hidden canal. Nowadays this is not enough to sustain the seventy-old monks and their guests, so water is brought in from outside.

 

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