WhenBolman first walked into the Red Monastery in Egypt’s Nile River valley, she said the once intricately painted walls of the church were completely blackened from smoke and incense residue. Walls of mud and sand from the surrounding desert also shrouded parts of the church’s architecture from full view.
“It sounds really corny,” said Bolman, the art history department chair. “But I really felt like this whole-body response to it. I was hooked and I couldn’t give it up.”
The Red Monastery was established around the fifth century B.C. Bolman said it is the only monument from the this time period to have a painted interior still intact. Bolman said she found extraordinary significance in the architecture and paintings uncovered by the project’s conservators.
With funding from the American Research Center in Egypt, Bolman and Italian conservators Alberto Sucato and the late Luigi De Cesaris began to preserve the Red Monastery in 2002.
Originally, the Red Monastery was founded by a community of monks in fifth century B.C. Bolman said the Red Monastery monastic community renounced all earthly pleasures and dedicated their lives to acts of service in the name of God. The name of the monastery is derived from the colour of the church’s exterior, which is composed of burnt red bricks.
The Red Monastery conservation project has revealed some of the best-known surviving paintings from the Middle Ages. Bolman said it is one of the best-preserved monuments from its time.
“It was one of the most difficult things I’ve done in my life,” Bolman said. “But it was also one of the most extraordinary. What a privilege to find a monument that had essentially fallen off the map, but was then able to recuperate in such an astonishing way.”
For the past 25 years, the ARCE has received funding from the United States Agency for International Development, which aids in preserving monuments like the Red Monastery. Bolman said after a conservation project is complete, there is normally an increase in tourism and economic prosperity in the area surrounding the monument. Bolman added this has been tremendously helpful for the people living near the monastery in a rural area outside the city of Sohag, located on the west bank of the Nile.