Since the beginning of Egypt's civilisation, this country has been a place of diversity. While proving that people from different backgrounds and religions have lived in perfect harmony over thousands of years, it has produced some fascinating wonders of architecture, art and culture.
In the religious compound (Mogamaa Al Adian in Arabic), old Cairo has a remarkable gem. It is the only place in the world where the oldest and greatest of mosques, churches and a synagogue meet in a holy assemblage just meters away from each other.
One of the highlights of this area stands just beside the Coptic Museum, in front of Mar Girgis Metro station. The Hanging Church is one of the oldest Coptic Orthodox churches in Egypt, one that has a special feel to it that reaches straight to the soul with its fine design and decoration that cares for the smallest of details. Built in the 4th century A.D, it was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and it is still known as St. Mary’s Church till now.
The name of the Hanging (or Suspended) Church originates from the fact that it was built on top of the Southern tower gate of the old Babylon fortress’s ruins, with its nave hanging over the passage. As the first church to be built in El Fustat, it became the official residence of the Coptic patriarchs of Alexandria in the 11th century. The church underwent an intensive restoration project in 1997.
Visitors are first greeted by a narrow but long entrance, centred with a garden that is decorated with mosaic creations on the walls. Once you go up the twenty-nine marble steps, you’ll find a passageway lined with photographs commemorating the history of the church and a detailed map tracing the holy family’s journey to Egypt. The passageway leads to an open hall with three decorated entrances to the prayer hall.
Inside, the marble pulpit surmounts pillars symbolically representing Jesus, the Virgin Mary, John the Baptist and the Twelve Disciples, with one being black representing Judas’s betrayal of Jesus. Made of ebony and ivory, the sanctuary screen hosts the seven large icons: Jesus Christ, with the Virgin Mary, the Archangel Gabriel and St. Peter to his right, and John the Baptist, the Archangel Michael and St. Paul to his left.
Since it is often frequented by tourists, the church’s outside hall hosts a number of racks selling souvenirs such as Jesus postcards and key chains. They also have interesting books about the church in English, French, Spanish, German and many other languages. You can also make donations that go towards the maintenance of the church.
The part of the church outside the main hall serves as a festive-looking bazaar that tourists are usually drawn to; as it gives them a small token to remind them of their visit as well as the chance to help the church’s activities.
The Hanging Church is a magnificent place to visit and wonder at the beauty and spiritual energy you can absorb by just being there. Visiting the place is definitely something that you should put on your calendar along with lighting a candle there.
Old Cairo continues to hold onto its historical atmosphere and architecture. Wandering through its narrow street with the cast of beige shadowing ancient buildings and feeling the holiness and antiquity everywhere is a nice break from the busy city life.