The remains of an ancient church and monks' retreats that date back to the early years of monasticism have been discovered in a Coptic Christian monastery in the Red Sea area, officials said Saturday.
Workers from Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities found the ruins while restoring the foundations of the Apostles Church at St. Anthony's Monastery. The remains are about 2 or 2 1/2 yards underground, said the head of the council, Zahi Hawass.
The monastery, which is in the desert west of the Red Sea, was founded by disciples of St. Anthony, a hermit who died in A.D. 356 and is regarded as the father of Christian monasticism. A colony of hermits settled around him and he led them in a community.
The remains include the column bases of a mud-brick church and two-room hermitages.
The remains of a small oven and a stove for food were found in one hermitage room, Hawass said. Another room had Coptic writing on the walls and a small mud-brick basin.
"These hermitages are the oldest in Egypt and they cast light on the history of monasticism in Egypt," Abdullah Kamel, the head of the council's Islamic and Coptic Antiquities department, told The Associated Press.
Kamel could not offer a precise date for the hermitages.
Christians account for an estimated 10 percent of Egypt's population and belong mainly to the Coptic Church, an Orthodox church that traces its origins to St. Mark.