Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- The restoration project of the oldest church in Egypt will be completed by next December, after the fire alarms and security systems have been installed for all the churches surrounding the Hanging Church situated in Old Cairo.
Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities Professor Zahi Hawass said that Italian experts specialized in air conditioning systems had been called in to install the best cooling system for the Hanging Church. This would help preserve its icons and wooden contents, taking into consideration the unique characteristics of the church and the continuous burning of incense and candles, which requires a very particular air conditioning system that would not be affected by the smoke.
Hawass indicated that the plan had been approved by the priests of the Hanging Church and by the Permanent Committee for Islamic and Coptic Monuments in its latest meeting. He added that all technical restoration work had been carried out by Russian experts at the request of Father Marqus Aziz.
Hawass explained that the final stage of the project began five months ago, after the company responsible assumed the task of installing the fire alarm and security systems and of carrying out the project that deals with the external, panorama view of the church and the surrounding areas. Once this is all complete, the Supreme Council of Antiquities would have succeeded in saving the oldest church in Egypt, which has been exposed to architectural erosion for centuries, especially during the past few decades that witnessed an increasing level of groundwater and the 1992 earthquake.
The Hanging Church is situated in Old Cairo, in an important Coptic area in Cairo known as the Religion Compound, near the mosque of Amr Ibn El Aas, Ben Ezer Synagogue, Church of Saint Mina, the Babylon Fortress ruins, Abu Seifien (St. Mercurius) Church as well as several other churches. However, the Hanging Church is the oldest existing church in Egypt. It was given that name because it was originally built on two of the Babylon Fortress’ ancient towers. The fort was built by the Roman Emperor Trajan in the 2nd century A.D.
Some accounts say that the Hanging Church was built on the ruins of a place where the Holy Family sought refuge during the three years they spent in Egypt after fleeing from Herod, the Ruler of Palestine, who had ordered the killing of all children. Other accounts state that the church was built on a chamber where a reclusive monk used to live and worship God.
The Hanging Church was restored a number of times during the Islamic era. The first time was during the reign of the Abbasid Caliph Harun Al Rashid when Patriarch Marcos asked permission from the governor to renovate the church. The second time was during the rule of the Fatimid Caliph Al-Aziz Billah who allowed Patriarch Abraham al Siryani to restore all the churches of Egypt and rebuild everything that had collapsed. The third time was when Al-Zahir LeDin Allah was in power.
A large number of patriarchs have taken up residence in the Hanging Church since the 11th century. Patriarch Christodoulos of Alexandria turned the Hanging Church into a residence for the popes of Alexandria. Several patriarchs were buried there in the 11th and 12th centuries. There are still depictions and icons of them in the church where candles are lit in their memory. Trials were also held at the Hanging Church for ministers, bishops and heretics. Moreover, it is considered an important shrine for Coptic Christians due to its historical significance, its connection to the Holy Family and its location amongst other churches and monasteries.