The Church of St. Sergius in Egypt

Posted On : 22/02/2023 Kate Clark 50
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The church of Abu Serga, this is the name of St. Sergius in Arabic, is located in Old Cairo, the historical part, also called “ Islamic Cairo ”, a part of Cairo, Egypt, which was built in a period before the Fatimid city of Cairo, founded in 969 AD

The church of Abu Serga is known to be one of the oldest churches in the city, dating back to the 5th century, although some historians date its construction to the 8th century BC. For most visitors, the style of the structure recalls that of the Hanging Church , just like this one, the church of San Sergio is also characterized by the two rows of columns that separate the side naves from the main one.

The construction of the church of San Giorgio

Its construction was dedicated to two martyr saints: Sergius and Bacchus. The two saints were two high-ranking Christian soldiers, part of the Roman army stationed in the east. They were martyred, following terrible tortures and humiliations, during the fourth century in Syria. The two enjoyed a high position at the court of Massimino Daia, tetrarch of the East from 305; they were denounced by envious enemies and when they refused to sacrifice to Jupiter they were martyred.

The church was built in the place where according to tradition the Holy Family sought shelter at the end of their journey to Egypt. This event corresponds to the 24th day of the Coptic month 'Bichons', which corresponds to June 1st in the Gregorian calendar. In commemoration of the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt, the Coptic Church organizes a mass every year in this ancient place of worship on the occasion of the anniversary.

What happened to the church?

The church was burned during the fire of Fustat, which occurred during the reign of Marwan II around 750. It was then rebuilt and restored already in the Middle Ages, during the eighth century. 

The internal environment is divided into three naves by two rows of pilasters. The two rows of six columns separate each of the aisles from the central nave, while the pulpit has been replaced by a copy of that of the church of Santa Barbara, one of the oldest, the wooden pulpit is now kept in the Coptic Museum in Cairo , also located in Old Cairo, Mar Girgis area.

It is thought that the Holy Family, Joseph, Mary and the infant Jesus Christ stopped to rest in this place at the end of their journey to Egypt. They may have lived here while Joseph worked at the nearby Babylonian fortress.

The historical value of the church

The church is of considerable historical importance, given its antiquity, it is in fact considered a model of the first Coptic churches, moreover it has been chosen over the centuries as the seat in which many patriarchs of the Coptic Church were elected. The first to be elected here was the patriarch Isaac (681-692). It is the Episcopal Church of Cairo , and was the episcopal see of the district of Old Cairo which replaced the former seat of Babylon. Many bishops of the sea were consecrated in this church until the mandate of Patriarch Christodoulous (1047-1077).

The most interesting feature is the crypt where Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus are said to have rested. The crypt, 10 meters deep, is often submerged by the waters of the Nilewhen the water level rises. The most valuable and oldest of the icons is on the southern wall. 

In the 11th century AD the seat of the Coptic Orthodox pope of Alexandria , which had always had its historical base in Alexandria in Egypt, was moved to Cairo, following the dominant powers who also moved from Alexandria to Cairo in that period. following the Arab invasion of Egypt. Finally, during the mandate of Pope Christodolos, Cairo became the fixed and official residence of the Coptic pope, the seat is in the Hanging Church (Kanisa el Muallaqa or Hanging Church).

There is some rivalry between the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus and the Hanging Church (El Muwallaqa). This sort of competition originated because of Patriarch Christodoulos' desire to be consecrated in the Hanging Church, while the original ceremony traditionally took place in the church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus.

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By Kate Clark

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