Saturday, October 23, 2010

Coptic Monasteries

I've been suffering from a bit of writer's block so we'll keep it pictures and minimal text...sadly in addition to my head being slightly out of order so are the photos. I'll get my act together on the next post. Thanks to Kathryn's camera and Ana's phone some of the day was properly recorded.

Every year Nadia, one of the local teachers organizes a Coptic Christian related field trip. Last year it was Cairo and this time around we visited three Monasteries near the desert road between Alex and Cairo. If my attention had been with the program I might have learned a thing or two and you would be reading a more quality post. Here are a couple of main points I remember...The Romans were the bad guys and chased the Christians out to the desert and as a result built fortresses to preserve the faith. The Bedouins and Berbers also didn't care much for the Christians and raided often, really why work for something when you can just go and take from a neighbor. 

The first stop was at Abou Makar (Saint Macarius) and if you go to their website you'll learn more than what I could ever tell you...just be sure to click on the English translation or you'll be reading scribbles. Better yet go here to see pictures and learn about the Church of the Forty Nine Martyrs, etc. Rumor had it that they sold the best dates and olives around, but the store only had dates and I simply wasn't in the date mood. The land surrounding the Monastery is fertile and many crops are grown and sold thus providing the major source of income to keep it going. 
And now we are at Anba Bishoy (Saint Bishoy) the last stop of the day. Click here to learn more. It is said that Saint Bishoy (a hermit) was lead out to the desert by an angel to where the monastery was built. This was about the time I was feeling a little weird from the Foul (fool-fava bean dish) we had at Abou Makar.
The monk stated while showing us the wheat mill that it is now easier to drive down to the market and buy a 2 kilo bag of flour. After watching the effort put into working the mill I would have to agree with him.
At each Monastery we were assigned to a friendly English speaking monk.  
Detail on the door. One thing we did learn is that it is against the law to preach Christianity outside the church in Egypt. It is punishable by prison and/or death; if you are foreigner you'll kindly get deported. 
Each tile is about the size of a finger nail.
Saint Bishoy carrying Jesus. The saint met Jesus on several occasions
Painting of Saint Bishoy washing the feet of Jesus.

Abou Makar was definitely the most green of the three, but the amount of cement canceled it out. 
Each monastery has several individual churches.
The sign says it all. The siege occurred in the 5th century and you can blame the raiding Bedouins and the last monk who forgot to see if the draw bridge was raised. Doh! 

The 4' door leads to a room about the size of a bathtub.
Our favorite of the three stops was Baramous. The scene outside the walls was desert and the green inside was a nice contrast. After being on sidewalks all afternoon, we welcomed the dirt paths.  
Inside one of the churches. There are books on the sides written in Coptic script with Arabic translations. The script/alphabet looks like a cross between Greek with a jigger of hieroglyphics.  
Coptic water tower
It just looks and feels clean.
Relics are covered up with written prayers folded and tucked under. It is believed that the objects are sacred and have power. Ana mentioned that the Catholics like to show off their stuff and the Copts cover it up. Raiding Bedouins and Berbers will condition you to feel that way.