Egypt’s oldest church will finally reopen its doors this December, after Antiquities chief Zahi Hawass announced that a project to save it from harmful air is coming to an end. The 3rd century AD Hanging Church has been decaying sharply over the past few hundred years, with much of its ornate imagery and wooden iconography in danger of disappearing forever.
The plan first involved installing security and fire alarms, and redecorating much of the famous building’s exterior. An Italian team has since been drafted in to relieve the church from the pressures of hot air with precise cooling equipment. The task has been made more difficult by the constant burning of incense, which is taking its own toll on some of the country’s most treasured coptic relics.
Hawass confirmed that as the project has received the blessing of the church’s priest Father Marqus Aziz, and has been green-flagged by the Permanent Committee for Islamic and Coptic Monuments. The project follows the recent reopening of Horemheb’s tomb at the Valley of the Kings, after similar work. Likewise, many famous Luxor monuments have recently been restored in an effort worth an estimated 127 million Egyptian Pounds (£13.9 million).
The Hanging Church is the oldest church in Egypt’s capital, and rests in the Old Cairo district in an important Coptic region called Religion Compound. It is so called because it rests partly upon the 2nd century AD Babylon Fortress; a vital Roman stronghold built by Emperor Trajan to compound his dominance of the north African coast. The church has seen a myriad restoration projects in its time, the major of which include 8th century work commissioned by the Abassid Caliph Harun al-Rashid, and Pope Abraham’s 10th century overhaul.
As well as its 110 precious icons, the church is the final resting place of a number of high-profile patriarchs. It is also widely thought to be built upon the ruins of a place where the Holy Family stayed during their exile from the Holy Land. Some people even claim it to have been constructed on the chamber of a mysterious reclusive monk, who worshipped there alone. Its restoration will surely provide more firepower for the election of Egypt’s minister for culture Farouq Hosni to Secretary General of UNESCO.