Saint Anthony is a prominent figure in Coptic Christianity because of his influence on the monastic movement. And even though his contemporary Paul was the first hermit, Anthony was the more popular. He was born in the middle of the 3rd century AD to wealthy parents who left him with a hefty inheritance upon their death, when he was 18. Instead of reveling in his riches, he sold all his possessions, distributed the proceeds to the poor, sent his sister to a convent, and fled to dedicate his life to God as a hermit in the mountains overlooking the Red Sea.
Disciples flocked to Anthony, hoping to hear his preaching and to be healed. But the monk sought absolute solitude and retreated to a cave in the mountain range of South Qabala. After his death in the 4th century—the hermit lived to age 104—admirers built a chapel and refectory in his memory. Saint Anthony's grew. In the 7th, 8th, and 11th centuries, periodic Bedouin predations severely damaged the structure. It was restored
in the 12th century.
Saint Anthony's is deep in the mountains. Its walls reach some 40 feet in height. Several watchtowers, as well as the bulky walls' catwalk, provide for sentries. The Church of Saint Anthony was built over his grave, and it is renowned for its exquisite 13th-century wall paintings of Saint George on horseback and the three Desert Fathers, restored in the 1990s.
Four other churches were built on the grounds of the monastery over the years. The most important of them is the 1766 Church of Saint Mark, which is adorned with 12 domes and contains significant relics.
A 2-km (1-mi) trek—be sure to bring plenty of drinking water along—leads you to Saint Anthony's Cave, 2,230 feet above sea level, where he spent his last days. Views of the Red Sea and the surrounding mountains are superb, and you're likely to encounter interesting local bird life on the hike to the cave. Inside the cave, among the rocks, pilgrims have left pieces of paper asking the saint for intervention.