The Definitive Guide to Living in the Capital , Cairo , Egypt

Hanging Church: Ancient Hallmark of Coptic Cairo

Hanging Church: Ancient Hallmark of Coptic Cairo
written by
Salma Tantawi

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.

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