The Gospel says: "God has spoken many times and in many ways" ... (Hebrews 1:1)
According to the Christian faith, God is revealed in many ways, one through nature, expressing His will through the elected ...
Those phenomena in which God has appeared, and we cannot explain, we call them miracles and those men who have been instruments of his revelation, we call them saints.
At the origin of the Christian monastic activity, throughout this earthly world, God has used the symbiosis between a holy man and what perhaps could be attributed to a miracle ... I mean life itself of St. Paul of Thebes, or the Hermit (228-342 AD), and a spring, just a trickle of water, which flows from the bowels of the earth in the arid Egyptian desert.
Church (up) and Monastery of Saint Paul (Egypt)
Entry to the church in Saint Paul's, cave of Saint Anthony and a street in Saint Anthony's monastery (Egypt)
Rather, I am going to focus on describing a natural fact, this "miracle of nature" ..., as long as the scientific man of the century we live in is unable to explain it. Let's see:
Let’s think of the hard, dry and inhospitable land of the Egyptian desert, among the fertile Nile Valley and the western shore of the Red Sea, actually, the eastern end of the very Sahara Desert, which extends into the Sinai, and after in the Arabian Peninsula. A territory in which it hardly ever rains, maybe once or twice a year, a few minutes, a few millimeters.
With this volume of rainfall, what water could there be in this space of hundreds or thousands of square kilometers? None, not superficial, of course not, nor a water table. And yet, at the foot of a mountain range near to the coast, several hundred meters above the sea, some small springs sprout with crystal clear water, drinkable and rich ... as fruitful as is the monastic history which originates in them.
Let's say that St. Paul spent 60 of his more than 100 years long life as a hermit, praying and meditating, united to his spring, as San Anthony to his, and as with other foundations, it was their followers who years after their death gave place to the monasteries that bear their names.
Spring of Saint Paul's monastery (Egypt)
Saint Anthony was luckier…, his source produces one hundred cubic meters per day. Its water in addition, unlike the first, is blander, since the first is a little salty. In both cases, the flow is constant all year round, every day of the year. Important as is water, while the monastery of St. Paul is small and modest, San Antonio Monastery is bigger and more apparent, although both equally remote.
Monastery of Saint Anthony (Egypt)
We know that the Nile, in its course towards the Mediterranean, transfers huge volumes of tropical rains water from the Central Africa highlands situated in the south. But the Nile is far, too far, and water that may infiltrate will never come to these springs, nor because of distance nor because of height. In addition, the flow of the Nile is not always constant, but fluctuates with its famous floods and then infiltration neither is, nor the result that this could lead to.
What can then be the source of water that flows in these places ...? condensation, capillarity from the Red Sea, ... or quite simply a miracle ...?
Monastery of Saint Paul (Egypt)
At this point, it could accept the divine origin of spring water, and what is even more miraculous ... that already in the third century, when there was barely anyone wandering around in the world, God guided the steps of Paul and Antonio to find these places, lost and hidden, and bring them to holiness ...
But I am a geologist, and curious by nature and profession, analytical and imaginative. Besides, I'm a lucky man: I do not watch TV, I have internet and I have traveled quite a lot... This leaves me precious time available and allows me to use my experience and my knowledge. So I think, I compare and if I find a better theory, I adopt it.
Monastery of Saint Paul (Egypt)
Well, in one of my countless trips to Algeria I found a fascinating book: "Lost civilizations of the Sahara". Today, satellite images have confirmed what was suspected for decades. Not so long ago in geological magnitudes, only a few thousand years ago, the territory of the Sahara was a green savannah with numerous lakes inhabited by all the wildlife that has been reflected in the paintings of the Algerian Tassili: hippos drinking water or wandering herds of elephants and giraffes, even astronauts ...
Actually, for several hundred thousand years, the Sahara territory has gone through several stages of ancient desertification and other intermediate flowering. The last time the Sahara was green probably covers the period from 11 thousand to 5 thousand years ago. Mentioned paintings date from more than 15 thousand.
During the stages, let’s say green or wet, the immense surface of Sahara led to the infiltration of rainfall which resulted in huge reserves of groundwater. Reserves nonrenewable today. Fossil water. Waters which were rained down thousands of years ago ...
Waters which are largely lost in underwater springs in the Mediterranean or the Red Seas. Some others, however, spring in the surface. They are karst springs. Caves have been inventoried and studied in Egypt and Libya. They are unbecoming of currently existing landscape and for their formation water flow was needed.
Seen in a map and though from one to another monasteries there is a good roll to go with the car, the fact is that both are on opposite sides of the same Galala mountain range.
In this massif, in the hyper-arid eastern desert of Egypt, some significant karstic morphologies have been identified. Although small, the caves that sheltered San Pablo and San Antonio have a great geological and cultural significance. The fossil water comes from tertiary sandstones of the Eocene out through small dissolution passages, favored by fractures in the rock. An inexhaustible water for now and which as not dependent of any seasonality, it does not suffer noticeable fluctuations.
Thinking about the lives of Saint Anthony the Abbot or St. Paul of Thebes in the desert, immersed in a heat and unbearable thirst, I imagined a world of blinding light where absolute deprivation lead to a harrowing experience of opposing views of demons and God ...
Under such conditions life is simply not possible, it cannot last. The reality is that even in the Eastern Desert of Egypt, temperatures are bearable in the shade, either that of a cave or the thick walls of a monastery and its palm trees.
Monastery of Saint Anthony (Egypt)
Hermits living in the wild desert, yes, but they established around areas of striking beauty, life and peace, protected from the elements. In both monasteries, the spring water has been channeled to create small oasis that although in the case of St. Paul is certainly very limited, in Saint Anthony keeps a beautiful garden.
Saint Paul and Saint Anthony chose these locations and monasteries were here founded, because here was a source of water ... the only water in a large region ...
Church in Saint Paul's monastery and Spring of Saint Anthony (Egypt)