CAIRO: The Hanging Church, where according to tradition Christian holy figures Jesus and Mary sought refuge 2,000 years ago, will be opened for the public Saturday after the completion of its 16-year renovation work, said Antiquities Minister Mamdouh el-Damaty in a statement Thursday.
“The restoration work started in 1998 as the church was weakened by the 1992 earthquake. It was carried out in three phases to reduce water leakage and strengthen the church’s foundations. The restoration was completed in 2010 but its official inauguration was put on hold due to the security lapse in the aftermath of the January 25 Revolution,” Damaty said.
The restoration work on the third century church included horizontal insulation works at its foundations, restoration of the woodwork and decorative items as well as plaster work and maintenance on murals, Damaty added.
Its inner and outer walls were reinforced, missing and decaying stones were replaced and its masonry was cleaned and desalinated, Ahmed Mutawa, director of the ministry’s Archaeological Sites Development Department, told The Cairo Post Thursday.
“New lighting and ventilation systems have been installed while the decorations and icons of the church were finely restored in collaboration with Russian experts,” Mutawa said.
According to Christian tradition, Mary and the infant Jesus fled to Egypt in the first century fearing persecution by King Herod I, a Roman client king of Judea in what is now Palestine and Israel.
“During their three-and-a-half-year stay in Egypt, they crossed the Sinai Peninsula and rested in several spots which were regarded later as holy places, and several churches and monasteries have been built in these spots,” Ahmed Abu el-Magd, Coptic History Department head at the Faculty of Arts at Minya University, told The Cairo Post.
He added that the Holy Family is strongly believed to have stayed in a crypt, now seen within the Church’s main building, for about two months.
“Being built over the Babylon Roman fortress with an empty space beneath the church—basically standing on hollow foundations—the architecture of the Hanging Church is an architectural miracle,” archaeologist Ahmed Mahran told The Cairo Post Thursday.
The church was restored several times during the Islamic era and served as the papal seat of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church until the 13th century, Mahran added.