Abu Serga Church | St Sergius and St Bacchus Church
Abu Serga Church in Coptic Cairo is one of the oldest Coptic churches in Egypt. The church has unique architectural and artistic elements that reflect the spirit of Coptic churches architecture in Egypt. Abu Serga church together with El Muallaqa church is Coptic Cairo’s top tourist attraction.
Where is Abu Serga Church?
Abu Serga church, also known as Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church is located in the middle of the ancient Roman fortress of Babylon in Old Cairo.
Why Abu Serga Church is very Important?
The importance of St Sergius and St Bacchus Church is due to the belief that Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus Christ rested in this place for three weeks at the end of their journey into Egypt. Meanwhile, they may have lived there while Joseph worked at the Babylon fortress.
Also, the church was the place where many patriarchs of the Coptic Church were elected. The first one was Patriarch Isaac 681-692 and many bishops of the sea were consecrated in the church until the reign of Patriarch Christodulus 1047-1077.
Where did the Holy Family stay in Egypt?
According to the Biblical narration, the Virgin Mary, the baby Jesus Christ, and Joseph escaped from Palestine to Egypt out of fear of the persecution of the Jewish king Herod the Great (Ruler of Judea). Joseph received the order from an angel in a dream to escape by night taking the virgin Mary and Jesus just before Herod ordered to murder all boys born in and around Bethlehem during the last two years.
How long the Holy Family stayed in Egypt?
The holy family spent almost 3 years in Egypt. They left from Bethlehem to Egypt after an angel warned Joseph to leave with Jesus and Virgin Mary. They entered Egypt through the northern gate of Sinai until reaching Farama. The places they stayed in have now been transformed into churches and monasteries. Almost twenty-two places in Egypt from Tel Basta, Mostorod, Belbeis, Samanoud, Valley of Natrun, to El Minya. Then they went back almost the same way passing the 22 places after three years.
Why did the Church of St Sergius and St Bacchus call it that way?
The church was named after Saints Sergius and Bacchus who served as soldiers in the Roman Army. They were both martyred in Syria for their Christian beliefs. Moreover, their relics can be seen today at the church.
When Abu Serga church was built?
Scholars almost agree that the Abu Serga church is one of the oldest churches in Egypt. It dates back to the 4th century or maximum the beginning of the 5th century. During the fire of Fustat, the church was burned and restored in the eighth century
Abu Serga Church Layout
- 2 Aisles separated from the nave by 12 columns with Corinthian capitals
- 3 Sanctuaries on the east side
- a pulpit on the northeast side of the nave
- The Crypt
The Church Description
- The church of Abu Serga follows the Basilican structure with a nave and two side aisles. There are 12 columns are separating the nave from the two aisles with Corinthian capitals.
- 11 columns are made of white marble and the last one red granite from Aswan. There are also traces of mural paintings on these columns representing Saints.
- On the eastern side of the Church, there is a tripartite sanctuary separated from the church by a wooden screen decorated with ivory and ebony.
- Each Sanctuary contains an altar, with a wooden dome, supported by 4 marble columns.
- The dome of each altar has religious scenes of Christ, Angels, and the 4 evangelists
- The pulpit on the northeast side of the nave was used once a year in the prayer of Great Friday
- It is made of marble, though originally it was made of wood, encrusted with ebony and ivory
- The icons of the church are remarkable and most date back to the 15th and 16th Centuries, but some were damaged and restored later.
- The roof of Abu Serga Church is constructed in the shape of Noah’s ark.
- The church had the oldest altar in Egypt and is now in the Coptic Museum
- The Baptistery of the church on the northwest side
- There are two chapels above the side and return aisles. One dedicated to Sergius and Bacchus and the other to Ibraham, Isaac, and Jacob. All are used during the fasting of Easter.
The oldest and the most important part of the church is the crypt, where the holy family rested. The cave can be accessed through staircases from two sides; one from the hall on the southern side of the church and the other from the center of the hall on the northern side. Meanwhile, the entrance is Located around 21 feet below the floor of the church, the cave has no window.
Conclusion about Abu Sega Church
Egyptians including Muslims and Christians are proud of this church as it witnessed the staying of the holy family for a while. Besides, the Coptic Orthodox Church is considered one of the oldest apostolic churches in the world, if not the oldest at all.
Hence, the interest in its history and civilization as an authentic part of Egyptian History became one of the most important things to know about its cultural heritage
It is historically proven that Saint Mark the Apostle came to the city of Alexandria in the year 61 AD. Its current headquarters is the St. Mark Church in Raml Station, and it became the official residence of the patriarchs.
During the persecution that occurred in the Coptic Church after the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD, the three Popes Peter IV 34 (567 – 569 AD), Damianus 35 (569 – 605 AD), and Anastasius 36 (605 – 616 AD) were forced to temporarily reside in a monastery to the west of Alexandria.
Until the Arab conquest of Egypt in 641 AD, the patriarchs continued to reside in the city of Alexandria until the reign of Pope Shenouda II, Patriarch 65
With the beginning of the Fatimid rule over Egypt, the city of Cairo was established in 969 AD, and commercial activity was transferred to the new capital, which prompted Pope Christodoulos, Patriarch 66 (1046-1077) to transfer the Papal seat to the famous Church of the Virgin Mary in the Hanging in Old Cairo
Infight between Abu Serga church and El Muallaqa church broke out to the wishes of that Patriarch’s desire to be consecrated in the hanging church, a ceremony that traditionally took place at Abu Sega Church.