Remembering unexpected moments of beauty. Egypt is a tricky place: on the surface, it’s polluted and brash, but just beneath that layer rests a vibrant, bustling culture full of the kindest people I’ve ever met.
On New Year’s Eve, our last day in Egypt, we visited Coptic Cairo (Coptic is the branch of Christianity most practiced in Egypt. It’s part of the Eastern Orthodox tradition). Egypt has a long history of religious tolerance, and Coptic Cairo is OLD. The remains of Roman towers mark the entrance to the Coptic Museum, and the area used to sit right on the banks of the Nile. The Hanging Church conducted baptisms for a few centuries in the waters of the Nile, and Coptic Cairo also houses a church-turned-synagogue which is said to mark the location where pharaoh’s daughter found Moses in the rushes. Like I said, it’s an old area of Cairo with a lot of history.
The Coptic Museum was beautiful, and boasts an amazing assortment of religious artifacts and items from daily life, not to mention some ancient manuscripts and beautiful fabric samples. The Hanging Church is famous for its massive collection of Coptic icons (over 100), and we visited the church on the heels of a New Year’s service: Coptic Cairo may be old, but everything there is still in use.
We discovered just how off the beaten tourist path this area is after visiting the Hanging Church. Taking a winding alley in the direction of signs that said led to the Church of Saint Barbara, we found a man varnishing the church doors. He noticed us hanging back, and warmly invited us inside. The glistening icons of Barbara (a kind of Rapunzel figure to my fairy tale trained mind) overwhelmed me, and I didn’t at first realize that the church was full. Of children. Wearing Santa hats and singing along joyously to a video on the screen.
We had stumbled into Sunday school while in Cairo. We snuck out quickly, but we were more joyous than embarrassed.
An icon of Saint Barbara from her church in Cairo