History of Christianity in Egypt
( St. Catherine's Monastery)
In July 1998, when we opened our Islamic museum at the Pharaonic Village, I received an interesting comment from one of our visitors. He was impressed with the museum but asked, "How come we dont have a museum of Christianity in Egypt- after all, this was the original religion of Egypt?" This comment made a strong impression on me and the idea stayed with me. In the span of 2 years we have opened several exhibits on- mummification and medicine in ancient Egypt, Arts and Beliefs, and ancient Egyptian boats- and in January we opened the Ptolemic (Hellenistic exhibit).
Model of the Monastery of St. Anthony on the Red Sea
But the story of Christianity lingered on. Finally I researched the subject from various sources, especially Aziz Attiyas Coptic Encyclopedia (8 volumes), the Encyclopedia Britannica as well as books by Jill Kamel and Otto Meinardus.
The story of Christianity in Egypt is very interesting- and to date, has not been taught in schools. Christianity spread very quickly in Egypt, after St. Marks visit to Alexandria. We must not forget that the Holy family (Mary, Joseph, and the infant, Jesus) traveled in Egypt for 3 years. Because of the Roman occupation, Christianity remained an underground religion until the reign of Constantine. The Christians suffered severe persecution at the hands of the Romans. But they developed the first academic Christian institution in Alexandria- The Catechetical School. From this school, great Christian schools such as Athanasius and origen. They also developed the Monasteries, Monks and the Monastic life, Monasticism began in Egypt, and then spread through the Middle East and Europe. St. Anthony, whose monastery lies close to the Red Sea, was one of the first Monks.
But the Copts also Suffered persecution at the hands of the Byzantine church, because of their beliefs in the single, divine nature of Christ. (monophysism) this persecution caused the Copts to welcome the Islamic army in 641.
The history of Copts is depicted in our Museum, as well as models of the monasteries of St. Anthony and St. Catherine, as well as old Cairo with all the churches. Another model shows the catechetical school of Alexandria- and still another the trip of the Holy family in Egypt. Coptic art is also displayed. The exhibit is well worth visiting.