TRAVEL THERE: WONDER OF WONDERS
OK. Get ready! This is big. The Hanging Church is a pretty marvelous place, but wait until you hear about Abu Sargus.
Why Is It Called the Hanging Church?
When you don’t know something, your brain can make up weird stuff. I figured it was called the Hanging Church because they used to hang people there. I was wrong. It’s called the Hanging Church because of the way it hung over the city like a mirage, in the days before sky scrapers.
This church was one of the most pleasant tourist destinations we visited. The Old City was not crowded and as you can see by the picture, this is a very lovely place. The walls have pretty murals depicting the most significant events in Cairo’s Christian Community. More about that later.
I have to confess to you that I’m not big on relics. I’ve seen more bones, scraps of fabric and hair than your average traveler, because I’m always interested in churches and many churches are interested in relics. Even palaces, like the Hofburg in Vienna, have their relics. In fact, I probably saw more relics in one place in the Hofburg’s Treasury than I have seen in any church.
I feel the same way about religiously significant locales. While I would like to go to Israel, I’m convinced that most of their religious sites are not sitting in the right place at all. In most cases it is the traditional location, not the actual location and knowing there is a difference bugs me.
So, while I had probably read something that told me what I was about to see in the basement of Abu Sagus, known as the Cavern Church, it really hadn’t registered with me. I just marked it up to, uh huh sure, would you like a piece of the True Cross?
Jesus in Egypt
Now we all know the story of the angel appearing to the Wise Men and warning them not to return to Herod after they had seen the Christ Child. We know how Joseph, Mary and Jesus escaped Bethlehem to avoid the Massacre of the Innocents. We all know that the Holy Family went to Egypt, but have you ever thought about where in Egypt they went? OK, me either. I assumed it was some cave or small town. That’s what you get for assuming.
So, if you are a Jewish Family looking for a place to wait out a bad political situation, wouldn’t you go find some other Jews to hang out with? And wouldn’t you look for a community where you could ply your trade?
To this very day, Jewish families tend to gather in the same area, near their synagogue of choice – especially observant Jews and those who practice the Orthodox tradition. Wouldn’t the Holy Family do the same thing? And where was there a significant Jewish Community and synagogue in Egypt? Well, Cairo, of course, and for good measure it was supposed to be built on the spot where Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses.
We went down to the basement and there was the remains of a two room house, but this wasn’t just any house. This was where the carpenter Joseph lived with his wife Mary and the Christ Child. OK, so it it the traditional two room house where Joseph, Mary and Jesus lived, but this space is more believable to me than most of these types of locations.
Oral histories are very strong in Egypt. I can see the Gospel writer Mark arriving in Cairo sharing his testimony. Someone says, “Jesus of Nazareth? His dad was my family’s carpenter! You say He’s the Messiah! Come on, they went to my synagogue. I can show you the very house they lived in. He died on a cross and was resurrected? Well, I’ll be!”
Without the Jerusalem Temple crowd, who did everything they could to wipe out any hint of a Messiah, I can see the Egyptian Jews accepting this information. Especially since along with the tradition that the family lived in the neighborhood, there are stories of events which demonstrated Jesus was known as someone special, even as a child. Our Muslim guide considers it common knowledge, more than a mere rumor or tradition – just short of a scientifically proven fact.
We don’t get this, because here in American we’ve only been around for a few centuries. Egyptians talk about ancient Pharaohs like we talk about our 2nd cousin on our mom’s side. We might not know them personally, but we know about them. So can I prove Jesus lived in the basement of the Abu Sargus before there was a church there. No, but it seems reasonable to me.
Come back next week and we’ll see some more of Old Cairo.