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 you travel, you will find the Christian monuments in Egypt.
- Christianity in Egypt
- Christianity in Egypt Today
- Christian Monuments in Egypt
- Coptic Churches in Egypt
- Coptic Monasteries in Egypt
- Wadi el-Natroun
- Monastery of Saint Simon
- Saint Catherine’s Monastery
- Monastery of Saint Anthony
- Monastery of Saint Paul
- Monastery of Saint Samuel the Confessor
- Monastery of the Archangel Gabriel at Naqlun
- Monastery of Saint Fana
- Virgin Mary Monastery in Durunka
- Hanging Monastery
- Virgin Mary Monastery at El-Ganadla
- Red Monastery
- White Monastery
- Final Word
Christianity in Egypt
Christianity is said to have been brought to Egypt by the Apostle Saint Mark shortly after the death of Jesus Christ.
While the arrival of Christianity in Egypt was not entirely without conflict, 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. The god-king Pharaohs had been dethroned, and the Roman Empire had 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 of a god and the belief in an afterlife, a paradise where excellent and faithful souls would be rewarded.
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, and it is estimated that there are somewhere between 20-30 million followers of this faith 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 be the focus of most escorted tours of Egypt, you can customise the vacation and ask to include some of these sites in private tour packages of 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 called the Saint Virgin Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church. It is one of the oldest churches in Egypt and is thought to date back to the 7th century, although there was another building located on the same site that dates as far back as the 3rd century.
The Hanging Church gets its nickname because of its appearance. The church itself is built above a gatehouse of a Roman-built fortress, and the nave is suspended over a passageway, making it appear as if the church is 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, and it is known 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 is held from 8 am-11 am on Wednesdays and Fridays, and from 9 am-11 am on Sundays.
Abu Serga Church
The Church of Abu Serga is another historic church located in Cairo. Also known as Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church, Abu Serga Church was built in the 5th or 8th century. Copts dedicated this church to two Martyrs named Sergius and Bacchus, who were Roman officers killed and martyred after pagans discovered that they were both secret Christians.
It is also believed that Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus stopped in the spot upon which the church was built after they fled to Egypt. As such, for most visitors, the main draw of Abu Serga is the crypt where the Holy Family is said to have 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.
The Church of Saint Barbara was initially dedicated to St. Cyrus and St. 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 known for its precious items, including bible caskets, two-door panels, and ancient icons, most of which can now be found in the nearby Coptic museum.
Coptic Monasteries in Egypt
Wadi el-Natroun is a valley located about 62 miles from Cairo. In ancient Egypt, it was vital as it was full 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.
The Monastery of Abu Makar is imposing. It is home to more than 100 monks and has over 600 works who live on the grounds and work on the monastery’s farm. It is possible to visit all four of these monasteries as a day trip from Cairo.
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 what is referred to as ‘Garbage City’, which is within the limits of metropolitan Cairo. The official name for this area is Manshiyat Nasser, and the majority of people who live here are Coptic Christians known as the Zabbaleen. 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
This monastery of Saint Catherine was built between 548 and 565 and is one of the oldest functioning Christian monasteries globally. It was made by order of Emperor Justinian on the site where Moses is said to have 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). The Codex Sinaiticus, which dates back to the 4th century and is one of the oldest preserved manuscripts of the Bible, was found here. 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 is located in the eastern Sahara Desert, in the Red Sea Mountains near modern-day Hurghada. It was built by an oasis where Saint Anthony the Great, one of the ‘Desert Fathers’, spent his time after choosing to travel into the desert to escape those seeking his advice as he believed that it distracted him from his worship.
The monastery was built in 356, a few years after Saint Anthony’s death. It is one of the oldest monasteries globally, and the same rituals have been practised here, unchanged, for more than sixteen centuries.
While this monastery was attacked 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. Saint Paul is believed to have been the mentor of Saint Anthony. Saint Paul was orphaned by 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, is built like a fortress. Despite its remote location, the Monastery of Saint Paul still fell under attack several times over the centuries. It was expected due to Christian monasteries and churches being raided and pillaged by Bedouin and Berber groups.
Should you choose to visit, there are three churches on the grounds you can see, including Saint Paul the Anchorite, which is dug into the cave where Saint Paul spent so many years. There are also many manuscripts owned by the monastery that you can view.
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 monastery is also known as Abu khashaba. According to an old story, there is a wood piece in the ceiling of the Archangel Gabriel, which gave a sign of the Nile flood. In the time of the mass, if this piece provides much water, this year will be at prosperity, but if it allows for a bit of water, this year will be in famine.
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 monastery is also called Abu Fanah and 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 the hanging monastery because it is placed in the mountain’s bosom.
Virgin Mary Monastery at El-Ganadla
There are also the cave churches once inhabited by the Holy Family during its journey in Egypt. The churches, in these cases, were built by these caves or upon them. Examples can be seen in the churches that commemorate the holy family’s journey, whether in Lower or Upper Egypt. the Virgin Mary Monastery at El-Ganadla comes as a stopping place of the Holy Family in Upper Egypt.
The Red Monastery or Apa Psoi is a Coptic Orthodox monastery named after an Egyptian saint called Psoi or Pishoy. Also, this monastery has the name Red Monastery that 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, they are surmounted by cavetto mouldings. 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 named after Saint Shenouda the Archimandrite. The monastery’s name is derived from the white limestone of its outside walls. The White Monastery is architecturally similar to the Red Monastery.
Without a doubt, Egypt has a rich religious history. Those interested in Christianity in Egypt will not be disappointed by the incredible churches, monasteries, and Christian sites spread throughout the country.
Contact our team if you are interested in adding these Christian monuments and monasteries to the visit. We are happy to customise your Landious private tour package according to your interests.