Off the Deep End, Part 8

23 Aug

By Eric Shipley

The next stop on our tour of Coptic Cairo was the Hanging Church. Also known as Saint Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church, this is one of Egypt’s oldest churches, thought to have been built in the seventh century AD (although it has been rebuilt several times).

The nickname “Hanging Church” has nothing to do with hangings (which is the first thing that popped into my perverse mind when I heard the name). Rather, it comes from the fact that the church does not actually have a foundation. It is built over the gate of an ancient Roman fortress, called the Babylon Fortress, and is supported by massive, upright palm trunks embedded in the sand far below.

The exterior is white (I’m guessing sandstone or adobe) and is topped by twin bell towers. We approached the main entrance by a long stairway that leads to three intricately carved wooden doors. Inside is a high barrel vaulted roof and some amazing artwork. The stone and wood carvings are exquisite and include an 11th century marble pulpit and many examples of amazing inlaid woodwork. There are also a number of impressive paintings, one of which, known commonly as the Mona Lisa of Egypt, depicts Mary with the infant Jesus. We were in awe of the skill and craftsmanship of the anonymous artists and artisans that did such magnificent work.

One non-artistic sight that I found impressive, though, was a small plexiglass window in the floor that afforded a view under the church. We could see the palm logs that provide support and the sand they rest in some forty feet below (if I recall correctly). It’s an impressive feat of engineering—there never was any indication of instability.

Next: The Citadel

Hanging Church exterior.

Hanging Church interior.

Hanging Church 'Mona Lisa.'

Hanging Church pulpit.

Hanging Church woodwork.

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2 Responses to “Off the Deep End, Part 8”

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