In the Bible and History
Egypt is mentioned almost 700 times in the Bible. It was one of the oldest and greatest civilizations but today is one of the poorest countries in the region. The Bible stories about Egypt we know best are the travels of Joseph leading eventually to the Exodus and the story of the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt. Acts 2:10 mentions that natives of Egypt were in Jerusalem as the church was founded at Pentecost and tradition has St. Mark converting Egypt to Christianity.
At the time of the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451, there was a division in Egypt. The majority rejected the formulas of the council and became the Coptic Orthodox Church. A small number of Greek Orthodox remained in Egypt but the Coptic Orthodox are now the largest Christian denomination in the Middle East.
Up until the coming of the Arabs in the 7th century, Egypt was the center of much Christian theology and learning and a major force in Christianity, especially around Alexandria. Egypt is also known in Christian history for the beginnings of the monastic movement that spread into the deserts of Palestine and around the Eastern Mediterranean.
Christians are less than 10% of the population of Egypt with almost 95% Coptic Orthodox. Other Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant churches are present in small numbers. Churches function with government permission and a presidential decree is required for building and repair.
The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in Egypt as a political group with the goal of putting Islamic law at the center of the country. There have been some few incidents against Christians but, as a whole, the government has kept dialogue and cooperation going.
Special Sites to Visit
This is the oldest part of the city and includes the Hanging Church (a particularly beautiful church); Church of St. George (built on a circular Roman tower); Coptic Museum (finest collection of Coptic art in the world) and other churches.
During the time of the ancient Egyptians the wadi was the source of chemicals that preserved the body. Its remoteness drew Christians to its caves during time of persecution. Four monasteries still remain out of hundreds. Check ahead of time as to which ones are open for visits.
Mt. Sinai and the Monastery of St. Catherine
Located in the Sinai, it is worth a trip to see the area, to climb the mountain and visit the monastery. Make arrangements in advance to stay overnight and begin your climb very early. It was founded in 530 C.E. and the mid sixth century basilica still remains. Icons and carvings abound including some of the earliest works that survived the iconoclastic period.
There are many sites claimed as related to the flight of the Holy Family but few are really considered authentic.
For More Information
Egyptian Tourist Authority
630 fifth Avenue, Suite 1706
New York, NY 10111
Tel: 212-332-2570; Fax: 212-956-6439
Egyptian State Tourist Office
Tel: +44-071-493-52283; fax: +44-071-408-0295
Middle East Council of Churches Egypt office
Notes from Personal Visits
The best books on Egypt are the Cadogan Guides. At least “window shop” in the Cairo souk, even if you don’t buy. The Street of the Tentmakers is worth a visit and maybe you will find an appliqued bedspread or a hanging that you like.
The Windsor Hotel in Cairo has a real old-fashioned atmosphere, potted palms, and boasts a cage elevator. It is a great place to stay if you don’t want fancy hotels. You get the feeling that you are back a century ago in a black and white movie and someone is hiding behind the palms. You might also like the Victoria Hotel.