The Christian religion holds a fascinating history in Egypt. It has changed and adapted over time but ultimately survived over thousands of years. Amid the bustling streets of Cairo and out amid the wind-blown sands of the desert, holiday trippers will still find Christian churches, monasteries, and monuments, many of which are still working and in use. Wherever tourists travel, they will find the Christian monuments in Egypt.
Christianity in Egypt
Christianity was brought to Egypt by the Apostle Saint Mark shortly after the death of Jesus Christ. However, the arrival of Christianity in Egypt was not entirely without conflict. However, many Egyptians quickly accepted and adapted to this new religion. It was partly due to timing and because Christianity and the ancient Egyptian religion had many similarities.
Christianity arrived in Egypt when the old belief system was falling apart. Occupiers dethroned the god-king Pharaohs, and the Roman Empire swept into the country. While Christianity was new and different, the Egyptians had many similar aspects. For example, concepts like god’s death and resurrection, the belief in an afterlife, and the excellent and faithful souls would be rewarded with a paradise.
Christianity in Egypt Today
Christianity is the second-largest religion in Egypt (Islam’s dominant religion). Egypt has the largest Christian population in the Middle East and North Africa. The majority of the Christians are Coptic Christians. The Christian estimated number is somewhere between 20-30 million followers in Egypt alone.
Christian Monuments in Egypt
Unsurprisingly, given Christianity’s history and current status in Egypt, the country is home to some Christian churches, monuments, and monasteries. While Christian Monuments in Egypt do not tend to focus on most escorted tours, you can customise the vacation and ask to include some of these sites in private tour packages in Egypt.
Here are some of Egypt‘s leading Christian monuments and monasteries that would be of interest to you:
Coptic Churches in Egypt
Hanging Church of Cairo
The Hanging Church in Old Cairo is a Coptic Orthodox Church that carries the name of the Saint Virgin Mary. It is one of the oldest churches in Egypt and dates back to the 7th century. However, another building stood on the same site dated as far back as the 3rd century.
The Hanging Church gets its nickname because of its appearance. The church stands above a gatehouse of an ancient Roman fortress. The nave stands over a passageway that appears to be hanging above. While the site is impressive today, it was even more impressive in the past when the ground level was several meters lower.
The Hanging Church in Cairo is not just historic and unique in its appearance, but it is also one of the most religiously significant churches in Egypt. It was the official residence of the Coptic Orthodox Pope in 1047. Several patriarchs chose to be consecrated, elected, and enthroned in this church. Also, it has fame as a site for several different apparitions of the Virgin Mary.
Today, tourists are welcome to visit the Hanging Church. Admission is free, and the church is open from 9 am to 5 pm every day. Coptic Mass begins from 8 am to 11 am on Wednesdays and Fridays and goes on Sundays from 9 am to 11 am.
Abu Serga Church
The Church of Abu Serga is another historic church located in Cairo. Also known as Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church, Copts built Abu Serga Church in the 5th or 8th century. At that time, they dedicated this church to two Martyrs named Sergius and Bacchus. The Saints were Roman officers; however, they were later killed and martyred after pagans discovered that they were both secret Christians.
Copts built the church upon the spot where Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus stopped after the flight to Egypt. As such, for most visitors, the main draw of Abu Serga is the crypt where the Holy Family rested.
The Church of Saint Barbara
The Church of Saint Barbara, dating back to the 5th or 6th century, is another historic church found in Cairo. Like most of the other Coptic buildings in Cairo, Christians rebuilt it multiple times- the most notable was during the 11th century.
Copts initially dedicated the Church of Saint Barbara to Saints Cyrus and John, two martyrs who enjoyed their healing powers. However, documents dating back to the 13 century say that relics of St. Barbara were moved and kept here, hence its current name. This church is famous for its precious items, including bible caskets, two-door panels, and ancient icons. Most of these items are among the exhibitions in the nearby Coptic museum.
Coptic Monasteries in Egypt
Monastery of Saint Mina
The Monastery of Saint Mina is a monastery of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria located in the Western Desert near Alexandria. It is dedicated to Saint Menas. The modern monastery is built close to the ruins of Abu Mena, the original pilgrimage site dating from the mid7th century.
Wadi el-Natroun Monasteries
Wadi El-Natrun is a valley located about 62 miles from Cairo. It was a vital area in ancient Egypt, for it enjoyed a high percentage of the carbonated sodium needed for the mummification process. It was also important to the Romans, who found the area a source of silica used to make glass. However, while this wadi was full of resources, it also had another use; a haven for Christians fleeing Roman persecution.
At one point, Wadi el-Natroun was full of monasteries. However, only four monasteries have remained despite the wear and tear of time, weather, and Bedouin raids. These monasteries are the following:
- The Monastery of Anba Bishoy.
- The Monastery of Paromeos.
- And the Monastery of Abu Makar.
- Also, the Monastery of El-Suryan.
It is possible to visit all four of the following monasteries on a day trip from Cairo.
Monastery of Saint Pishoy
Saint Pishoy’s Monastery is the most famous monastery of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, named after Pishoy. It is the easternmost of the four current monasteries of Wadi el Natrun.
Ecclesiastically, the Paromeos Monastery is dedicated to and named after the Virgin Mary. It is the most northern among the four current monasteries of Scetis, situated around 9 km northeast of the Monastery of Saint Pishoy.
Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great
The Monastery of Saint Macarius The Great, also known as Dayr Aba Maqar, is a Coptic Orthodox monastery located in Wadi El Natrun, Beheira Governorate, about 92 km (57 mi) north-west of Cairo and off the highway between Cairo and Alexandria. The Monastery of Abu Makar is imposing. It is home to more than 100 monks and has over 600 workers who live on the grounds and work on the monastery’s farm.
Monastery of Saint Mary Deipara
Saint Mary Deipara is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and carries her name. It is better known nowadays as the Syrian monastery; or the monastery of the Syrians (Syriac Dayr al-Suryan). This name is because monks of the West Syriac rite mainly used it from the 8th to the 14th century. In scholarly references from the nineteenth century, it is generally called the convent or monastery of Saint Mary Deipara.
Monastery of Saint Simon
The Monastery of Saint Simon is one of the unique Christian sites in all of Egypt and the largest Christian church in the Middle East.
The Monastery of Saint Simon exists in Zabballeen, a city for garbage, within the boundaries of metropolitan Cairo. The official name for this area is Manshiyat Nasser. The majority of people who live in this spot are Coptic Christians working as garbage collectors. They collect garbage from Cairo’s residents for a fee and bring it back to their neighbourhood to sort and find recyclable goods.
The Zabbaleen built the Monastery of Saint Simon in a cave within Garbage City. Saint Simon was a tanner from the 10th century, and this monastery built in his name can seat up to 20,000 people. There are also separate church spaces within the surrounding caves, creating a sizeable Christian complex within Garbage City.
While this part of Cairo is not precisely known for tourism, hundreds of thousands of people still pilgrimage to this monastery every year.
Saint Catherine’s Monastery
The monastery of Saint Catherine was built between 548 and 565 and is one of the oldest functioning Christian monasteries globally. Emperor Justinian ordered to construct it where Prophet Moses had seen the burning bush, a sacred place to Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.
Saint Catherine’s Monastery also contains the world’s oldest continually operating library, home to many unique books. It also holds the second-largest collection of early codices and manuscripts (the Vatican Library has the most significant number). Here, Christians found the Codex Sinaiticus, which dates back to the 4th century and is one of the old-preserved manuscripts of the Bible. Also discovered at the monastery was the Syriac Sinaiticus, which pre-dates the Codex Sinaiticus and was crucial in understanding the history of the New Testament. The Syriac Sinaiticus can still be found at the monastery today. Unsurprisingly, Saint Catherine’s Monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Monastery of Saint Anthony
The Monastery of Saint Anthony stands in the eastern Sahara Desert, in the Red Sea Mountains near modern-day Hurghada. Copts built this monastery by an oasis where Saint Anthony the Great, one of the ‘Desert Fathers’, spent his time after choosing to dwell in the desert. He settled there to escape those seeking the advice that distracted him from worship.
Copts built the monastery in 356, a few years after Saint Anthony’s death. It is one of the oldest monasteries globally, and the same rituals practised here were not changed for more than sixteen centuries.
Although bedouins attacked this monastery and faced much damage over the years, it still has plenty to see. Several remarkable paintings date back to the 7th and 8th centuries, ancient woodworks, and more than 1700 documents in the library. Today, the monastery acts like a small town with several churches, gardens, and even a working bakery.
Monastery of Saint Paul
Located in Egypt’s Eastern Desert, the Monastery of Saint Paul dates back to the 5th century. According to traditions, Saint Paul was the mentor of Saint Anthony. Saint Paul was orphaned at sixteen and left his inheritance to dedicate his life to Egypt. He found refuge in the Eastern Desert, where he lived 113. Saint Anthony sought out Saint Paul after hearing that a man in the desert was holier than he. The two became friends until Paul’s death. According to the stories, Anthony saw Paul’s spirit carried away by the angels and watched as two lions dug a grave and buried his body.
The Monastery of Saint Paul the Anchorite, also known as Deir Anba Bula, has a fortress-like building. Despite its remote location, the Monastery of Saint Paul still fell under attack several times over the centuries. Bedouins and Berbers raided and pillaged many Christian monasteries and churches.
Tourists choose to visit three churches on the grounds, including the church of Saint Paul, the Anchorite. The latter is dug into the cave where Saint Paul spent many years. In addition, they can also view the many manuscripts that the monastery has.
Monastery of Saint Samuel the Confessor
Monastery of Saint Samuel, the Confessor in Qalamun, is located on the northern edge of the valley Wadi el-Muweiliḥ, south of Wadi El Rayan in the western desert in Beni Suef west Gebel el-Qalamūn. The approximately 20-kilometre long valley formed part of the caravan route between Minya and Faiyum.
Monastery of the Archangel Gabriel at Naqlun
Monastery of the Archangel Gabriel is one of the oldest Coptic monasteries in El Fayoum, probably established in the 4th century by Bishop Aur the first. The sanctuary also has a famous name, Abu Khashaba. According to traditions, there was a wood piece in the ceiling room where the Archangel Gabriel showed the Nile flood. If this piece provides much water in the mass, this year will be prosperous. However, if it allows for some water, it will be famine this year.
Monastery of Saint Fana
The Monastery of Saint Fana is a Coptic Orthodox monastery. It gained its name after Saint Fana, also known as Bane (c. 354–395), a Coptic Christian hermit. The sanctuary is also called the Cross Monastery for the many beautifully decorated crosses inside its church.
Virgin Mary Monastery in Durunka
The Monastery of the Virgin in Mount Assiut is one of the important tourist attractions in the Egyptian country. Thousands of foreign and Egyptian visitors visit it throughout the year to learn where the Holy Family’s journey ended, and the return journey began. The Virgin was manifested in a luminous form and still appears from time to time in this holy monastery, where people find calm, comfort, peace and joy.
The Hanging Monastery stands on the eastern bank of the Nile River, about 25 km north of Abnoub city, at an altitude of 170 meters from the earth’s surface. Therefore, it gained fame as a hanging monastery for it shows in the mountain’s bosom.
Virgin Mary Monastery at El-Ganadla
Churches that commemorate the holy family’s journey represent cave churches, whether in Lower or Upper Egypt. There are also the cave churches once inhabited by the Holy Family during its journey in Egypt. The churches, in these cases, stand by these caves or upon them. The Virgin Mary Monastery at El-Ganadla comes as a stopping place for the Holy Family in Upper Egypt.
The Red Monastery or Apa Psoi is a Coptic Orthodox monastery that carries the name of an Egyptian saint, Psoi or Pishoy. Also, this monastery has the name Red Monastery which comes from the colour of its outside walls’ construction materials. These walls are considerably thicker at the base than at the top. Like these walls of Ancient Egyptian temples, the cavetto mouldings surmount them. The Red Monastery is architecturally similar to the White Monastery.
The Coptic White Monastery, the Monastery of Abba Shenouda and the Athribian Monastery, is a Coptic Orthodox monastery that carries the name of Saint Shenouda the Archimandrite. The monastery’s name comes from the white colour of limestone used for its outside walls. The White Monastery is architecturally similar to the Red Monastery.
Monastery of Anba Pachomius Edfu
Under the patronage of the venerable pontiff, Anba Hydra, Bishop of Aswan and the head of the monastery of Anba Pachomius in Edfu Hajar, and because His Eminence loves the monastic life, he gave this monastery special care. He loved the place with incredible love, to the extent that before constructing the sanctuary, His Eminence prayed the rosary alone.
Monastery of El Munira
The fortress of the village of El Munira north of El Kharga Oasis lies about 20 km northeast of Qasr Kharga and 9 km from the oasis. The Monastery of El Munira is one of the most impressive in the North Kharga in the New Valley Governorate. Copts converted this monastery (also known as El Deir and Deir el-Ghanayim) into a prominent monastery in the Christian era.
The fortress is a large structure with 12 round towers and a passageway between them. It was once one of the oasis’ oldest fortresses built during the Roman times to protect camel caravans at Darb al-Arba’in / Arbeen (Forty-day Road), a road that links the valley to the town of Sohajj, 30 km north of Kharga and near Qasr (Kasr). These caravans were crossing the desert and heading to Nubia and Sudan. Both the Turkish and British Armies occupied the fort in later times.
El Bagawat Necropolis
El Bagawat is an ancient Christian necropolis, one of the oldest globally, which functioned at the Kharga Oasis in southern-central Egypt from the 3rd to the 7th century AD. It is one of the earliest and best-preserved Christian cemeteries from the ancient world.
Without a doubt, Egypt has a rich religious history. Tourists interested in Christian monuments in Egypt will admire the incredible churches, monasteries, and Christian sites spread throughout the country.
Feel free to contact our team to add these Christian monuments and monasteries to the visit. We are happy to customise your Landious private tour package according to your interests.