THE RED MONASTERY, Egypt (AP) — Locked inside a 6th century church in a desert monastery are some of the jewels of early Christianity — ancient murals in vivid pinks, greens and reds depicting saints, angels and the Virgin Mary with a baby Jesus, hidden for centuries under a blanket of black soot.
Italian and Egyptian restorers are meticulously uncovering the paintings, some of the earliest surviving and most complete examples of early Coptic Christian art. But the work, in the final stages more than a decade after it started, is done quietly to avoid drawing attention — and there’s no plan to try to attract visitors, at least not now.“This is our heritage and we must protect it,” said Father Antonius, abbot of the Red Monastery where the Anba Bishay Church is located. He takes it as a personal mission to protect it. The church’s heavy wooden door has only two keys. He keeps one and a young monk he trusts keeps the other.“I don’t think there is a church anywhere in Egypt that even begins to match the beauty of this one,” Antonius said, beaming like a proud father.The little known Anba Bishay Church offers a striking example of how Egypt’s Orthodox Coptic Church jealously guards its heritage against formidable odds — whether decades of neglect, discrimination by the Muslim majority or the violence by Islamic militants, who have gained significant power since the 2011 ouster of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.The protection of its heritage took on greater urgency when 40 churches were wrecked, burned and looted in a pogrom-like wave of attacks in August, blamed on Islamic militants. Coptic leaders say the attacks are the worst in centuries.The attacks laid bare a worrisome failure or unwillingness by authorities, as well as moderate Muslims, to protect the churches. Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s 90 million citizens, were left with their deepest sense of vulnerability in recent history. Egypt’s powerful military pledged with great fanfare to restore the churches. But Christians say that, two months later, they are still waiting for concrete steps.
Thursday, October 17, 2013
Nothing to see here, just another religious minority still under attack in the Middle East: