It is often said of Egypt that it is impossible to build or repair a church without presidential permission, even simply to fix a toilet or change a light bulb. There are historical reasons for this statement and contemporary examples of the difficulty.
But this article in Ahram Online celebrates the full reopening of the 4th Century ‘Hanging Church’, following sixteen years of renovation.
Work was carried out under the supervision of the Ministry of Antiquities with a $14 million budget.
He explained that the restoration work was carried out in three phases to reduce water leakage and strengthen the church’s foundations and the Babylon fortress located beneath it, to protect them from potential future damage. The walls were reinforced, missing and decayed stones were replaced and masonry cleaned and desalinated. The decorations and icons of the church were also subject to fine restoration in collaboration with Russian experts. New lighting and ventilation systems have also been installed.
Located in a heavily populated area, says Wadallah Mohamed, assistant of the head of the projects section at the ministry, the Hanging Church was suffering from environmental hazards including air pollution, a high subsoil water level, a high rate of humidity, and leakage of water from the outdated and a decayed 100-year-old sewage system. Other damage included decorations of the church’s wooden ceiling being stained with smoke and the impact of the 1992 earthquake, which resulted in cracks in the church’s walls and foundations.
“The church is now safe and sound and its restoration was carried out according to the latest technology,” asserted Mohamed.
The church was beautiful before the renovation, I look forward to visiting it now. It is located next to the Coptic Museum, which also has opened recently after a long period of repair.
This news should not let Egypt off the hook for its record in facilitating church construction. A high profile worship site and tourist attraction is far different from some church in an obscure village. It should be said, however, that obscure village churches are often built in a style far more grandiose than local need might warrant. It should also be said, further, that once a church is built, a mosque springs up next to it, so that local Christians will call it ‘the church’s mosque’. There is often a competition over height; both religious adherents often prize the building for its social statement over its functional purpose.
But this requires a full and separate analysis. For now, simply celebrate that Egypt has cooperated to repair a grand church together – toilet, light bulb, and all.
Here is the message given on the occasion by church and government official figures, as related by Paul Attallah:
Pope Tawadros II gave three messages on this occasion:
First message: A message of gratitude towards our ancestors who built this church on the Roman Babylon Fortress ruins.
The second message is a “promise” to all Egyptians: Egypt is a museum of civilization and history. Each archeological spot is a jewel. We need to be aware about this richness to rejoice and to preserve our monuments.
The third message is a peace message given from this place thanks to the State efforts to deliver a message of peace to the whole world that everyone can coexists in peace. In fact, Egypt is carrying a part of all religions.
The religions don’t exist for rivalry but for peace, and when we begin our celebration with the national anthem it gives a model to the whole world that we can live in peace in the middle of an region full of conflicts and violence. But in Egypt we provide a model and example of religions coexistence.
The Egyptian Prime Minister gave a speech: I remember Pope Shenouda III saying: Egypt our homeland lives in us. It gathers people and don’t divide them. It’s a country which knows love and peace and never give up. Look to the whole region: as long as we are united we will not be scared and we will build our country.