Monday,11 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1217, (16 - 22 October 2014)
Monday,11 December, 2017
Issue 1217, (16 - 22 October 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Coptic monument restored

Nevine El-Aref attends the opening of the Hanging Church after 16 years of restoration

Coptic monument restored
Coptic monument restored
Al-Ahram Weekly

Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb, Pope Tawadros II and Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty were among the dignitaries attending the reopening of the Hanging Church — so-called because it sits above the gate to the Roman fortress of Babylon — after 16 years of restoration. During the opening ceremony, Eldamaty described the completion of the restoration of “one of the most important monuments in the history of Egyptian civilisation” as evidence of Egypt’s commitment to safeguarding Coptic sites.

At a time when the region is suffering from a resurgence in terrorism, Eldamaty continued, the completion of work on the Hanging Church reaffirmed Egypt’s position as the cradle of civilisation, a place where the three revealed religions stand in harmony, and where the call for Muslim prayers is called alongside the ringing of church bells.
 
Mehleb, who told the assembled dignitaries that the restoration of the church should serve as a symbol of Egypt’s national unity, quoted the words of late Pope Shenouda: ‘Egypt is not a nation in which we live but a nation that lives inside us’.

The restoration project, he said, was completed by Muslim and Christian restorers who worked together to overcome daunting architectural challenges and preserve the important Coptic shrine.

The project took so much time, Mehleb added, because of the threats posed by groundwater.

“It was necessary to reduce the level of subterranean water which threatened the foundations of all the area’s monuments. This was no easy task, and the difficulties were compounded by the church’s critical structural condition.”

A major overhaul of the area’s sewage system is now complete.
 
As chairman of Arab Contractors, which since 1998 has collaborated with Orascom on restoration work of all monuments in the area, Mehleb has a long association with the project

The re-opening of the church, said Pope Tawadros II, sends three messages: one of redemption towards our ancestors; a second highlighting Egyptians’ consciousness of their glory and a third underlining the harmony which has historically existed between all Egyptians.
 
“The existence of these three religious edifices in one place [the synagogue of Ben Ezra and the Mosque of Amr Ibn Al-Aas are nearby] reflects how Egyptians lived together in peace and love. Mogamaa Al-Adian, where the Hanging church is located, is testament to the fact the three religions exist not for rivalry but to spread love and peace.”  
 
The Hanging Church, damaged by air pollution, rising groundwater, humidity and leaks from the century-old sewage system, also suffered during the 1992 earthquake. In 1997 the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) launched a comprehensive restoration project to preserve Egypt’s Coptic sites. The neighbouring Coptic Museum was restored and an extension built to display new exhibits.
 
Waad Mohamed, charge d’affaires of the projects section at the Ministry of Antiquities, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the official re-opening of the church, originally planned for 2010, was delayed due to security concerns immediately before, and in the aftermath of, the 2011 January Revolution.
 
Restoration work progressed in three phases. First it was necessary to reduce water leakage into the church and strengthen its foundations, which included major work on the supporting fortress. Walls were reinforced, stones replaced, and the masonry desalinated.

“The church now stands as proudly as it did in the past,” said Mohamed.
 
Work on the interior included the restoration of icons, undertaken in collaboration with Russian experts, and the installation of new lighting and ventilation systems.

“Every effort was made to retain the original architectural features,” says Eldamaty. Restoration work extended beyond the church walls to include neighbouring monuments and surrounding streets.

The Hanging Church is thought to be the first built in the basilica style. Though the earliest mention of the church in an extant text is in the biography of the Patriarch Joseph I (831-49) a church has stood on the site since at least the late fourth or early fifth century CE.
 
The church was largely rebuilt by Pope Abraham (975-78) and in the eleventh century became the seat of the Coptic Orthodox pope. Additional work on the church was undertaken during the rules of the caliphs Haroun Al-Rashid, Al-Aziz Billah Al-Fatemi and Al-Zaher Al-Ezz Al-Din Allah.

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