St. Mary's Church

El-Muallaqa (St. Mary's Church)

El-Muallaqa or St. Mary's Church is said to have been built around the end of the 3rd century or the beginning of the 4th century. The name Muallaqa, which means suspended, comes from the fact that the floor was built on two of the towers of an ancient Roman fortress. They covered the towers with palm trucks and a layer of stone. The main church is thought to have been built between the 5th and 6th centuries with the southeastern section called the "upper church" being added later. The church was destroyed in the 9th century. It was rebuilt in the 11th century and became the seat of the Coptic patriarchate until the 14th century.

It became known to travelers during the 14th and 15th centuries as the "staircase church" because of the twenty-nine steps that lead to the entrance. Inside are four naves with three rows of marble columns. There are also seven sanctuaries in which six are in the two side aisles and one in the Church of St. Mark which is above. In front of the central sanctuary is a pulpit that dates from the 11th century and is supported by fifteen marble columns. On one of the bastions of the fortress is a chapel built for the Ethiopian saint Takla Haymanot. A wooden staircase leads up to this chapel. There are many objects that belong to the church inside the Coptic Museum. There are icons and manuscripts that can be seen there. Inside the church are collections of over one hundred icons of which the oldest dates from the 8th century. The craftsmanship of the iconostases in cedar, ebony and walnut and are inlaid with ivory and dates from the 10th to the 13th century is incredible.

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