Monday March 4th, 2024
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Inside the Hanging Church of Old Cairo

Ten of its wooden doors now sit inside the British Museum.

Karim Abdullatif

Inside the Hanging Church of Old Cairo

The Hanging Church, formally known as the Church of the Virgin Mary, earned its intriguing name not from ethereal suspension but rather from its elevated position - resting atop the remnants of the Roman Fortress in Coptic Cairo.

With roots reaching back to the 3rd century, the structure holds the distinction of being one of Egypt’s oldest churches, offering a journey through the annals of time through its captivating history and unique architecture.

Approaching the church, the blend of Coptic, Roman and Byzantine architectural influences becomes apparent. The entrance, adorned with intricate carvings, sets the stage for the understated charm that awaits within. Inside, visitors are greeted by the soft play of light filtering through stained glass, casting a subtle kaleidoscope on the ancient stone floors. 

As you wander through the hallowed halls which resonate with the quiet echoes of centuries-old prayers, the interior unfolds a gallery of Coptic art and artifacts. Icons, including iconostasis which mark the nave, the ‘Coptic Mona Lisa’ and Saint Mercurius by Yuhanna Al-Armani, grace the walls, each telling a story of humble devotion.

The church also serves as the seat of the Coptic Orthodox Pope of Alexandria, underscoring its deep religious significance. Despite the passage of centuries, the Hanging Church stands resilient. Numerous renovations, undertaken with care, have preserved its essence.

The story of this church transcends time, and really, it’s not just a historical site but an immersive experience that connects the past with the present. Try it in person: climb its 29 steps, linger below its barrel-vaulted ceilings, and explore the enduring history woven into its walls.


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