Restoration work on the old church of St Paul in his monastery on the Red Sea has recently been completed under the supervision of the Islamic and Coptic sector of the Supreme Council for Antiquities (SCA) and the American Research Center in Cairo (ARCE). The restored church is the oldest building in the monastery; it dates back to the period between the third and fourth century AD, in the lifetime of St Paul. The church, which was originally an underground cave, was extended in the 18th century, when an entry to the church was added on the west side.
During restoration several murals were unveiled, some of them concealed under layers of dust and candle and incense smoke. Others had been painted over in recent times.Painted overThe murals were painted by some artists or monks of the monastery over the ages. Around the altar of St Antony in the church are drawings going back to the 13th century. At the eastern end is an icon representing the Holy Virgin and two angels, while above the altar, also on the eastern side, is an icon depicting Jesus Christ seated on the throne. In the arch between the two altars of St Paul and St Antony, a drawing of an angel’s head or perhaps of a saint was revealed that had been completely covered by recent oil paint. The drawings on the ‘dome of martyrs’ were also restored.
On the background murals of the church nave, visitors can now see drawings from the 18th century depicting angels and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego in the fiery furnace. St Paul and St Antony are depicted in the 18th-century drawings in the north side of the nave.
The restoration project, which has been carried out by a team of top Italian restorers, was in three phases: structural, architectural, and finally the fine restoration of the mural drawings and wood. The electrical and lighting system was also upgraded.