History can be interesting sometimes. I experienced that phenomenon today when I went on another tour with AUC to Coptic Cairo where we learned a little bit about Coptic history and art—we also saw a synagogue—not too many Jews left nowadays however, and most of the ones that are left reside in Alexandria, but the synagogue we saw was pretty sick.
Like last time, we rode in ultimate style to the old part of the city in our luxury bus, where we were then forced to get out and walk around, to our great disdain. Luckily, most of the time we were inside so I didn’t have to worry about wearing sunscreen. Unfortunately, I had remembered to bring sunscreen but forgotten my camera. On the bright side, no one else had a camera so I’ll forget the entire experience except for what I remember to put in this post.
Highlights from the trip:
1. Seeing two oldest churches in Egypt, going back to the 2nd and 3rd century A.D. (I think…that could be inaccurate). Maybe earlier. Old South Church in Boston has nothing on these guys.
2. Seeing where Mary, Jesus, and Joseph hung out while they were avoiding being killed in Nazareth (one of the rumored places)
3. Smelling frankincense when walking into the churches and imagining the people that have been smelling the frankincense for centuries.
4. The pop music playing in the courtyard of one of the churches.
Tidbits from the tour:
1. The tradition of monasticism was apparently started in Egypt, and so there’s a ton of Coptic art from monasteries that were built and then abandoned whenever the water resources ran out. I now desire to go hang out at a monastery and add my own modernist twist to Coptic art.
2. A story: in the time of the Fatimids, the ruler used to like to have discussions between the leaders of each religious community. At one such discussion, the ruler got into an argument with the Coptic pope and demanded a miracle from him in order to assuage his anger since Christianity was supposedly a religion of miracles. The specific miracle he demanded (I didn’t know you could be so picky) was that the pope move the Moqqatam hills in 3 days. So the pope asked all the Copts to pray and fast for three days and on the third day the Virgin appeared to the pope and said that he needed to walk outside the church and he would find a one eyed man who would perform the miracle. He exited the church indeed found a one eyed man. They took a taxi to Moqattam together and the one eyed man performed the miracle and the hills were lifted off the ground so that you could see the sky through the bottom of the hills. We know this actually happened because there is an authentic tile representation of the miracle, a medium widely known to be quite accurate.
3. St. Mark was the founder of Egyptian Christianity
4. Copts were known for their weaving skills.
5. In the 19th century, a tourist (read: British colonialist) was poking around in the synagogue and accidently stumbled upon a huge treasure trove of Jewish texts. When I’m chilling at the monastery I’m going to do a lot of digging in hopes of finding something equally impressive.