Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1271, (19-25 November 2015)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1271, (19-25 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Clerics expected more

Floods in Wadi Al-Natroun have damaged the ancient monasteries of Deir Al-Suryani and Deir Anba Bishoy. Michael Adel talked to clerics who say they have been let down

Al-Ahram Weekly

After historic churches in Wadi Al-Natroun were recently damaged by floods, church leaders asked government officials for help. But so far they have received nothing more than an inspection by the Ministry of Antiquities (MOA) and a promise that its officials will “oversee” the repairs.

No funding was forthcoming, not from the government at least, for this unique site that has attracted worshippers and visitors for centuries. The Wadi Al-Natroun monasteries have all been closed to the public until further notice.

Father Boules Halim, official spokesman of the Coptic Church, said that a governmental engineering committee visited the monasteries, inspected the damage and came up with proposals to conduct repairs. But no funding was offered.

In a memorandum to the church, the MOA said that the church must take “prompt action to carry out the [repair] work at its own cost.” The MOA also suggested that the work should be conducted under its inspection and by a “syndicate-approved engineer.”

In the absence of state funding, the church will have to use donations from its congregation “to fix buildings dating back thousands of years,” Halim added.

Fadi Youssef, founder of the Egyptian Copts Coalition (ECC), visited Wadi Al-Natroun last week. He described the MOA decision as running against the interests of the state. The monasteries, he noted, are not just religious sites but popular destinations for tourists.

Speaking anonymously, sources within the church told Al-Ahram Weekly that Anba Metaos, head of the ancient Syriac Monastery, also known as Deir Al-Suryani, prefers to use Dutch rather than Egyptian expertise to fix the monastery.

Dutch experts who have been repairing fresco images in the churches for years have already inspected the damage done to the monastery’s copula, which suffered cracks because of the torrential rain.

Father Yoannes Al-Suryani, who lives in Deir Al-Suryani, told the Weekly that some buildings have suffered structural damage but that the contents of the monasteries are still in good shape.

“Al-Beheira governor came to the monastery with an army commander and they both expressed their sympathy,” Al-Suryani said. “But those who acted to save the monasteries were the clerics and the nearby residents who provided us with pumps to drain the water.”

Both the Anba Bishoy Monastery and the Syriac Monastery suffered damage from metre-high floodwater that broke through the surrounding walls and flowed into the monasteries.

The monasteries are situated at a low point, compared to their surroundings, and are therefore susceptible to damage from flooding. What made things worse is that the outer walls did not have any passages to allow the floods to continue on their course.

“Those who made the outer walls enclosing the monasteries didn’t create outlets for drainage, so the water collected along the walls, instead of running through and getting dispersed in the sand and amid the vegetation,” Al-Suryani explained.

When the water finally breached the wall, “it surged forth like a flood and submerged the two monasteries,” he said.

“These torrential rains happen periodically, but officials didn’t pay any attention. Now, disaster has struck again, for the third time in 25 years,” Al-Suryani added.

As well as the repair of structural damage to buildings, the monasteries need an overhaul of their electricity networks. Al-Suryani called on electricity companies to help fix the damaged connections inside the monastery.

Bishop Zakariya Al-Baramusi said that none of the clerics or the workers in the monasteries was hurt in the flood. He added that the disaster happened because Wadi Al-Natroun is about 27 metres below sea level, which makes it particularly vulnerable to flooding.

“The buildings, especially the old ones, were damaged because the water rose so high — one metre — that it flooded some buildings,” Al-Baramusi added. “Some of the inhabitants in the monastery recorded the damage in photographs that they posted online.”

Bishop Yosab Bishoy said that the clerics are still holding mass. “We prayed amid the water, for God listens to prayers anywhere,” Bishoy said.

The tomb of the late Pope Shenoudah, located inside the Abna Bishoy Monastery, was not damaged by the floods.

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