Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Mokattam Cave Churches

A friend took us to see the Christian "cave churches" in Cairo.
These churches are actively used by the Christian community of Zabaleen, those who handle the garbage in Cairo.  The churches are carved in the rock hills of Mokattam.  The larger open-air church is called the Church of Virgin Mary and St. Samaan.  The church is named for St. Samaan because St. Samaan supposedly performed a miracle of moving a mountain when commanded to do so on Nov. 27, in the year 979 A.D.  One article I read said that at the moment when St. Samaan's faith was being questioned about his religion and he was ordered to move a mountain, two earth quakes happened and Mokattam Mountain did reportedly move.

The person who took us to the cave churches said when the Christians were looking for somewhere to worship, they came upon this cave that had wall murals showing it had been a place of worship for Christians many years before.  The online source I read said that the large church began as a one meter high cave and was then carved out in 1986 when it was used as a church for a Christian monastery.

I believe this monastery is the one I have heard about where babies are tatooed with a crosses on their inner wrist as a sign that they are Christian.  I shook hands with a man at a Rotary event once and noticed he had a cross in the middle of his inner wrist on his right hand.  I've heard that the tattoo is placed in that location to readily identify people as Christian.

Religion is a very serious matter here.  All Egyptians have ID cards that list their religion.  I've read that one Egyptian who has Islam listed as his religion on his ID card is suing the government to change his religion to Christianity.  The article I read said he is basing his case on Article 47 of Egypt's Civil Code that he says allows Egyptians to change the religion listed on their ID cards.  According to the article, his case, filed in the First District of the Court  of the State Council earlier this year, was suspended in April.

Here are photos of the St. Marks Church (top photos) and the Church of the Virgin Mary and St. Samaan (below).  These two churches are right next to each other.

Here's a wooden sculpture on the grounds of the cave churches.
Here's the entrance to the larger cave church, the Church of the Virgin Mary and St. Samaan.

In 1994, the stone benches were added to this church creating seating for 20,000 people.

Above is one of the carvings high in the rock wall of the Church of the Virgin Mary and St. Samaan.  Below is the view looking up at the rear of the church.
Here's a video link to a YouTube video taken by someone else showing this church from the front.

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