The double bombing of Coptic churches in Egypt yesterday is another reminder, as if we need it, that there is a war going on, of Islamist against Christians, to cleanse Christianity from the region, which has been its cradle and its precarious home for the past two millennia. In some places around the world, you go to a church to worship, and you might not come back home. Forty-four Copts won’t. As won’t three Muslim officers, including Emad El-Rakiby, 33, who died preventing a suicide-bomber from entering St. Mark’s Church in Alexandria and killing a lot more than the ten who died at that scene.
In Egypt last September, I walked around the Coptic Cairo, the heartland of Christianity on the Nile. This roughly 300 by 300 metres section of the city is completely walled off to separate it from the Muslim world outside. The only access is through a police checkpoint off Mar Girgis street – not that this would stop any real determined ISIS terrorists – and not that the walls are particularly high and formidable either.
Inside of the Coptic Cairo are some of the oldest and most beautiful Christian churches in Egypt. In the past, there were as many as twenty, built on top of Roman fortress Babylon-in-Egypt; today, only handful are still open. They share the cramped space with a Greek Orthodox church, monastery and cemetery, as well as one of the oldest Jewish temple in the country, Ben Ezra synagogue, build near a spring where the tradition has it the Pharaoh’s daughter found baby Moses in the reeds.
It is rather melancholy that so many cities and places I have visited in my travels last year have since witnessed ISIS carnage. It makes all my memories – the real and the photographic ones – quite bittersweet. In this Holy Week I can only wish that my future Daily Chrenk travelogues were prompted by joyful recollections and not terrorist outrages.
The Hanging Church, so known as it is built on top of an old Roman gate.
Inside the Hanging Church
The Greek Orthodox Church of St George
Inside the church of St Sergius
A third-century crypt – one of the oldest Christian structures in Egypt
The narrow streets of the Coptic Cairo
(All photos copyright Arthur Chrenkoff)