The Coptic area was fascinating. Narrow streets and alleys wind through the quarter leading to one of the oldest sections of Cairo. It is largely built over the 3rd century AD Roman fortress of Babylon.
The Coptic people are native Egyptians who were converted to Christianity in the 1st Century. Copts today comprise just about 10% of Egypt’s population, with nearly all of the remaining 90% being Sunni Muslims. There is much persecution of the Copts and in recent times they have been victims of terrorist attacks.
Apostle St. Mark arrived here around 60 AD and his handiwork is still evident. We visited the church of St. Sergius & St. Bacchus, the oldest Coptic church in Cairo.
Because the street of Cairo has been built up over the years, the entrance is down a set of stairs. It’s claimed that while escaping King Herod’s decree of killing infant boys, Joseph, Mary and their child were forced to flee from persecution, and they found shelter here..
Tradition claims that the Holy Family spent 3 months in this cave that is now under the church, in the heart of Cairo. The church of St. Sergio’s and St. Bacchus is built directly over where Christ allegedly lived.
The well there is said to date back to that time. It’s interesting to think of Christ as a political refugee in light of all the rhetoric about immigration and refugees today.
The oldest church in the Coptic area is the venerable St. Mary’s. Typical of Coptic churches, the walls are adorned with icons, the altar is shielded by an iconostasis, and the barrel-vaulted ceiling is constructed of wooden planks imitating Noah’s Ark. It’s known as the hanging church because a section of it spans a portion of the Roman ruins below.