Off the Deep End, Part 6

26 Jul

By Eric Shipley

Our first day of sightseeing in Egypt took us to Coptic Cairo, a part of Old Cairo that dates back to the 6th century BC and mingles Muslim, Christian, and Jewish traditions. One of my most vivid memories, however, is the impression, in several places, that we’d stepped into the scenes in Raiders of the Lost Ark that take place in Cairo. The tan colored mud brick and adobe buildings looked just the same, albeit with telltale modern trappings such as TVs. And, as always, there were numerous, heavily-armed guards and soldiers.

Our first stop was the Greek Church of St. George, one of the few remaining round churches in the Middle East (see image below). It was built in 684 AD and sits on top of a cylindrical Roman tower. We approached via a long series of steps that took us past an impressive relief sculpture of St. George slaying the dragon (at right below). Inside, there is an abundance of intricately carved woodwork, some of it with gold-colored gilding. I’m sure there is some religious significance to the designs and iconography, but in my ignorance, it was (and still is) lost on me.

The altar (see below) includes what seemed to me to be a shrine (presumably to St. George) in an alcove that has steps leading up to it. Around the interior walls, in shallow sconces, are paintings of various saints (image below). The bottom couple of feet of these paintings are fronted by a plexiglass sheet that leaves a narrow pocket. Apparently, this was intended to allow people to leave monetary offerings to their chosen saint, and indeed we could see money behind the plexiglass.

The Church of St. George has been burned several times, so what we saw was actually built in 1909. It retains some of the stained glass from the previous building (which was burned in 1904) and still has an awe-inspiring feeling of antiquity.

Next: The Ben Ezra Synagogue


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