Known in Arabic as 'Abu Serga, this church is dedicated to two Roman officers, Sergius and Bacchus, who were martyred in Syria in 303. It was a major pilgrimage destination for 19th-century European travelers because it was built over a cave where the Holy Family was said to have stayed the night during their flight from King Herod—a special ceremony is still held every June 1 to commemorate the event. Originally constructed in the 5th century, the church has been destroyed and rebuilt several times, including a major restoration during the Fatimid era. Reconstructions aside, it is considered to be the oldest church in Cairo and a model of early Coptic church design.
The entrance is down a flight of steps that leads to the side of the narthex, at the end of which is a baptistry. Look up at the ceiling of the nave; 24 marble pillars that were taken from an earlier site, possibly from the Ptolemaic era (304–30 BC), support a series of arched timbers.
Most of the
church furnishings are modern replicas of older pieces. The originals can be found in the Coptic Museum, including pieces from a rosewood pulpit and the sanctuary canopy, considered to be one of the museum's prized possessions. To the left of the sanctuary is the crypt in which the Holy Family is believed to have hidden.