Paintings in the triconch sanctuary of the church in the Red Monastery at Sohag, Egypt.

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Red Monastery

Top choice in Northern Nile Valley

The Red Monastery, 4km southeast of the White Monastery and hidden at the rear of a village, is one of the most remarkable Christian buildings in Egypt. It was founded by Besa, a disciple of Shenouda who, according to legend, was a thief who converted to Christianity; he dedicated it to St Bishoi. Opening hours might be affected by services and Coptic holidays.

The older of the monastery’s two chapels, the Chapel of St Bishoi and St Bigol, dates from the 4th century AD and some 80% of its surfaces are still covered with painted plaster and frescoes, giving a good idea of how all late antique religious buildings might have looked. An extensive restoration by the American Research Center in Egypt and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has revealed them in full glory. The quality and extent of the surviving work has led this chapel to be likened to the Aya Sofya in Istanbul and the church of Ravenna as one of the great surviving monuments of late antiquity. The chapel of the Virgin, across the open court, is a more modern and less interesting structure, but the services held here, with much incense, can be atmospheric.

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