By HAMZA HENDAWI
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.