Coptic Cairo

Cairo, Egypt

From Coptic Cairo

I’ve written a lot about the Copts in Egypt. Today we visited the neighborhood called Coptic Cairo, starting at the Coptic Museum. Our tour guide, once again, was an AUC Art History professor, who busted a few myths for us about the “primitiveness” of Coptic art. It’s her feeling that the proportions are so contrived and stylized in order to differentiate Coptic style from the perfect realism of Greco-Roman styles. This column capital is a perfect example of the blend of stylized proportions and the exquisite craftsmanship of the stonecarvers.

From Coptic Cairo

Then we went around the corner to perhaps the most famous church in Cairo, the so-called Hanging Church because it was built atop one of the towers of the Roman Fortress of Babylon. Long the seat of the Coptic popes, it’s been remodeled over and over again, but still retains many of its early architectural and artistic roots.

From Coptic Cairo

Next we went to St. Sergio Church, built over a crypt where Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus were said to have lived during their exile in Egypt. An Egyptian story goes that the leader of the monastery where they were staying recognized the divinity in Jesus, so when the family was leaving, he hung an ankh around Jesus’ neck to protect him, and this is supposedly why the first Coptic crosses were actually ancient Egyptian ankhs.

From Coptic Cairo

Finally, we visited the Ben Ezra Synagogue. Jewish tradition holds that this synagogue is built along the canal (long gone) where Moses was discovered in his basket by the Pharoah’s wife. When Jews returned to Fustat centuries later, they discovered certain signs left here by Moses, and built a synagogue in this place. That synagogue was eventually deserted and destroyed, and a church was built in its place, which was later rededicated as a synagogue. It is, however, no longer a working synagogue. Those wishing to go to temple must do so in downtown Cairo.

From Coptic Cairo

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