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The Hanging Church
The Hanging Church Review
Known in Arabic as al-Muallaqah ("the suspended"), the church is consecrated to the Blessed Virgin. Originally built in the 9th century—and sitting on top of a gatehouse of the Roman fortress (hence, its name)—the Hanging Church has been rebuilt several times, like most of Cairo's churches. Only the section to the right of the sanctuary, above the southern bastion, is considered original. Nevertheless, it remains one of the most impressive churches in the city.
The entrance gates lead to a flight of stairs that opens onto a covered courtyard, the narthex, which is partially paved with glazed geometrical tiles that date from the 11th century. Beyond the narthex is the nave, the main section of the church, where services are held. This is divided into a central nave and two side aisles by eight Corinthian columns, a feature that suggests that they were taken from an earlier building. Most columns in Coptic churches were painted with pictures of saints, but few of the paintings survived. Those in the Hanging Church are no exception; only one column still has traces of a figure on it.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this space is the marble pulpit. Considered the oldest existing pulpit in the country, it was constructed in the 11th century, with some of its materials coming from earlier furniture. The pulpit is supported by a series of slender columns arranged in pairs of which no two are alike. Some say this represents the sacraments of the Church; others describe it as being symbolic of Christ and his disciples.
The sanctuary screen is also of exceptional quality. It is made of cedarwood and ivory cut in small segments, then inlaid in wood to form a Coptic cross, which has arms of equal length and three points at the end of each arm. The top of the screen is covered with icons depicting Christ in the center; the Virgin, the archangel Gabriel, and Saint Peter on the right; and Saint John the Baptist, Saint Paul, and the archangel Michael on the left. Behind the screen is the sanctuary dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Two side sanctuaries are dedicated to Saint John the Baptist (right) and Saint George (left), a very popular saint in Egypt.
To the right of Saint George's sanctuary is another beautiful screen dating from the 13th century. Made of wood and mother-of-pearl, it glows dark pink when a candle is held behind it. Behind the screen is a small chapel attached to the Ethiopian Saint Takla Hamanout Church. This chapel is worth visiting for its two wall paintings, one depicting the 24 Elders of the Apocalypse and the other the Virgin and Child. A stairway leads from this chapel to one above it, dedicated to Saint Mark. This area is probably the oldest part of the church, built in the 3rd century, when this was still a bastion of the old Roman fort.
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