7 Oldest Churches in Egypt

Did you know that Egypt is actually one of the most important countries in the world when it comes to the very beginning of the Christian faith? And has some of the oldest churches and monasteries in the world? As in, more than 1,000 years old – and some even older than 1,500 years!

Read more: 7 Most Beautiful Coptic Orthodox Monasteries in Egypt

It’s believed that Egypt is where Jesus and the Holy Family fled from Judea and took cover; they traveled, worked and rested in different spots throughout Egypt in what is known as ‘The Flight into Egypt’.

Egypt is also where some of the world’s earliest churches and monasteries were built, and Coptic Cairo is a stronghold for early Christianity in Egypt (read more: Coptic Cairo – A Detailed Local’s Guide).

Let’s take a look at some of the oldest churches in Egypt – and guess what, you can still visit them!

1. Abu Serga (Saints Sergius and Bacchus) – 4th century AD

Location: Cairo

The Abu Serga church is believed to be built on the spot where the Holy Family (Joseph, Mary, and infant Jesus Christ) stopped and rested towards the end of their journey to Egypt. The spot is now the crypt of the church, 10 meters deep.

It’s also believed that they might have lived here while Joseph was working at the Babylon fortress in what is now modern-day Coptic Cairo — the fortress’ enclosure today includes the Coptic Museum and a few churches, like the previously mentioned Hanging Church and Mar Girgis.

Abu Serga is also of importance because it’s where many patriarchs of the Coptic Church were elected, the first being Patriarch Isaac in in 681 AD.

2. St. Paul’s Monastery – 4th century AD

Location: Red Sea mountains, near Zafaraana (before Hurghada)

This monastery was built over the cave where St. Paul the Anchorite lived for 80 years in Egypt’s eastern desert, and is also known as ‘the Monastery of the Tigers’ for unclear reasons; some theorize it’s due to its remote location in the desert, but tigers aren’t exactly known to be prancing up and down Egypt (even in ancient times), but oh well.

Bedouin tribes attacked the monastery in 1484, killed the monks and burned down their library. It was rebuilt by Patriarch Gabriel VII, who sent monks from the Syrian Monastery (in the Wadi el Natrun monasteries, below) but it was attacked twice after, causing the monks to flee to St. Anthony’s Monastery and not return.

3. St. Anthony’s Monastery – 4th century AD

Location: Red Sea mountains, near Zafaraana (before Hurghada)

St. Anthony was one of the most famous “Desert Fathers”, a group of Christian monks who lived in the Eastern Egyptian desert in the 3rd century.

He was roaming the desert when he came across an oasis surrounded by trees, and it was in this spot that he was later buried and his monastery built a few years later.

Today St. Anthony’s Monastery is the oldest inhabited Christian monastery in the world and is home to paintings dating back to the 7th and 8th centuries, as well as 1,700 ancient documents.

4. Red Monastery – 4th century AD

Location: Sohag

The exact history around this mysterious monastery on the outskirts of Sohag in Upper Egypt is unknown, although it’s considered one of the most famous Coptic monasteries in Egypt. It had fallen into ruin until 2003 when the American Research Center in Egypt undertook a restoration project. According to ARCE: “Nowhere else in Egypt do we know of a monument of the late antique and early Byzantine period whose architectural sculpture is in situ up to the highest level of the building.”

Garnering its name from the red burnt brick construction materials on its exterior, the Red Monastery is a neighbor to the White Monastery, built around the same time and worth a visit as well.

You can take a virtual tour of the Red Monastery and 21 other awesome sites in Egypt here.

5. Church of St. Barbara – 5th century AD

Loca Cairo

The Church of St. Barbara the Martyr is another extremely old church in Coptic Cairo, that was complete with priceless relics that exist until today (although many of them have been moved to the Coptic Museum). Although the church itself has been rebuilt and restored several times, items from the original church are believed to date back to the 5th or even 4th century.

6. St. Catherine’s Monastery – 6th century AD

Location: Sinai

Part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site (for other Egyptian heritage sites, head here), the Orthodox Saint Catherine Monastery is the oldest Christian monastery in the world still used for its original function.

According to UNESCO: “Its walls and buildings are of great significance to studies of Byzantine architecture and the Monastery houses outstanding collections of early Christian manuscripts and icons. The rugged mountainous landscape, containing numerous archaeological and religious sites and monuments, forms a perfect backdrop to the Monastery.”

St. Catherine’s Monastery is at the foot of Mt. Sinai, where it’s believed by the Abrahamic religions that Moses found the Burning Bush and received the 10 Commandments.

7. Hanging Church – 7th century AD

Location: Cairo

One of the most famous churches in Egypt, The Hanging Church is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Historic Cairo. It got the name of ‘Hanging Church’ (or ‘Suspended Church’ in Arabic, ‘El Moallaqa’) because of its location above a Roman fortress gatehouse. When it was first built the pillars of the gatehouse would have been easily seen, creating the ‘hanging’ effect of the church, but now are buried due to the rise of the ground over the past 1300 years.

The church is believed to be the first basilica style church built in Egypt, and houses 110 icons, most made of ebony and some inlaid with ivory, the oldest and holiest dating back to the 8th century.

You may also like: 9 Egyptian Churches, Cathedrals & Monasteries You Need To Visit At Least Once

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