Virgin Mary Church – Cairo, Egypt

Virgin Mary Church

Updated On: April 15, 2024 by   Ahmed SamirAhmed Samir

Cairo, Egypt, is a city steeped in history and culture, with its roots stretching back thousands of years. Among its many historical treasures is the Virgin Mary Church, a place of worship that has stood as a symbol of faith and resilience for centuries. This article will delve into the rich history, architectural beauty, and significance of the Virgin Mary Church, shedding light on its enduring importance in the heart of Egypt’s bustling capital.

A Closer Look at the Virgin Mary Church

The Virgin Mary Church, also known as the “Hanging Church,” is one of Egypt’s oldest and most significant Christian places of worship. Its history dates back to the early Christian period, with some sources suggesting it was built in the 3rd century AD during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. However, most historians agree that the structure was constructed in the 7th century during the Byzantine period, making it over a millennium old.

The church gets its nickname, the “Hanging Church,” from its unique architectural style. It was built atop the remains of two earlier churches, and its nave is suspended over the passageways of the Babylon Fortress, one of the ancient fortifications of Old Cairo. The strategic location of the church served not only as a place of worship but also as a defensive post during times of turmoil and conflict.

Architectural Beauty

The Virgin Mary Church is a masterpiece of Coptic Christian architecture. Its exterior is unassuming and blends with the surrounding buildings, but its interior is a breathtaking display of intricate design and craftsmanship. The church is built in the shape of a basilica, with three aisles separated by rows of columns and adorned with richly decorated wooden screens and colourful frescoes.

One of the church’s most striking features is its wooden iconostasis, a partition separating the sanctuary from the rest of the church. The iconostasis is adorned with beautifully carved icons and biblical scenes, visually representing the Christian faith’s rich history and teachings.

The church’s wooden pulpit, known as the “pulpit of the sultans,” is another remarkable element of its architecture. This pulpit, dating back to the 13th century, is an exquisite example of medieval Islamic woodworking, showcasing intricate geometric patterns and Arabic calligraphy.

Visitors can admire ancient religious artefacts throughout the church, including icons, manuscripts, and liturgical instruments. These relics offer a glimpse into the deep-rooted Christian traditions that have been preserved within the walls of the Virgin Mary Church for centuries.

Religious Significance

The Virgin Mary Church holds immense religious significance for Egypt’s Coptic Christian community, constituting around 10% of the country’s population. It is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, who holds a special place in Christian theology and is revered as the Mother of Jesus Christ. The church’s dedication to the Virgin Mary is reflected in its numerous icons and murals depicting scenes from her life.

One of the Virgin Mary Church’s most revered icons is the Virgin Mary and Child icon. This icon is believed to have miraculous properties and is a focal point of devotion for many Coptic Christians. Pilgrims and visitors often come to the church to offer their prayers and seek solace in the presence of this sacred icon.

The church also plays a vital role in the annual Coptic Christmas celebrations, which take place on 7 January. On this day, thousands of Coptic Christians gather at the Virgin Mary Church to attend a special Mass and participate in religious processions. The church’s historical and religious significance makes it a central hub for Coptic Christian life in Cairo.

Endurance Through the Ages

Throughout its long history, the Virgin Mary Church has faced numerous challenges and witnessed dramatic changes in Egypt’s political and social landscape. From the Roman period to the Arab conquest, the Byzantine era to the Ottoman rule, and beyond, the church has remained a steadfast symbol of faith and endurance.

The Virgin Mary Church faced various restrictions and transformations during the Islamic era. However, it managed to adapt while preserving its Christian identity. The church’s ability to coexist with other faiths and adjust to changing circumstances reflects the resilience of Egypt’s Coptic Christian community.

In the modern era, the Virgin Mary Church continues to thrive as a place of worship, attracting local and international visitors. It is a testament to Egypt’s diverse religious heritage and the peaceful coexistence of different faiths.

Restoration and Preservation Efforts

Over the centuries, the Virgin Mary Church has undergone several renovations and restoration projects to ensure its structural integrity and preserve its historical and cultural significance. In collaboration with various international organizations and donors, the Egyptian government has played a crucial role in funding and overseeing these efforts.

One of the most extensive restoration projects took place in the 1980s and 1990s, which aimed to repair and conserve the church’s architectural elements, including its wooden screens, columns, and frescoes. These efforts safeguarded the church’s physical structure and helped restore its vibrant and awe-inspiring interior.

In recent years, the Egyptian government has continued to invest in preserving the Virgin Mary Church and other historical sites in Old Cairo. These ongoing initiatives aim to protect the country’s rich cultural heritage and promote tourism, as many tourists are drawn to Egypt’s historical and religious landmarks.

Visiting the Virgin Mary Church

For those interested in exploring the Virgin Mary Church, visiting Cairo is an opportunity to delve into Egypt’s rich history and religious diversity. The church is conveniently located in Old Cairo, within walking distance of several other historical and cultural attractions, such as the Coptic Museum and the Ben Ezra Synagogue.

Visitors to the Virgin Mary Church should be mindful of local customs and dress modestly when entering the holy site. It is also advisable to check the church’s opening hours, which may vary, particularly during religious holidays and events.

Attractions Near the Virgin Mary Church

Exploring Old Cairo is a captivating journey through time, and the Virgin Mary Church is just one of the many remarkable attractions in this historic neighbourhood. Here are some more must-visit sites nearby:

  1. Coptic Museum: Located a short walk from the Virgin Mary Church, the Coptic Museum is a treasure trove of Coptic Christian art and artefacts. The museum’s vast collection includes ancient manuscripts, textiles, sculptures, and icons, offering a comprehensive look at Egypt’s Coptic heritage.
  2. Ben Ezra Synagogue: This synagogue, also known as the El-Geniza Synagogue, is one of the oldest in Cairo. It has a rich history and is famous for discovering the Geniza documents, which provide valuable insights into Jewish life in medieval Egypt. The synagogue’s architecture and serene ambience make it a fascinating visit.
  3. Saint Sergius and Bacchus Church: Often referred to as Abu Serga, this church is believed to have been built on the site where the Holy Family sought refuge during their flight into Egypt. Its ancient history, with origins dating back to the 4th century, adds to its religious significance.
  4. Amr Ibn Al-As Mosque: Just a short distance from Old Cairo lies the Amr Ibn Al-As Mosque, one of the oldest mosques in Egypt. This mosque, dating back to the 7th century, showcases Islamic architecture and history. It’s a testament to the early spread of Islam in the region.
  5. Babylon Fortress: The remnants of the Babylon Fortress can still be seen beneath the Virgin Mary Church. This ancient Roman fortress once protected the city and offers a glimpse into the strategic importance of Old Cairo during different historical periods.
  6. Hanging Church Souk: Adjacent to the Virgin Mary Church, you’ll find a bustling souk (market) with shops selling various souvenirs, crafts, and traditional Egyptian products. It’s an excellent place to pick up unique gifts and immerse yourself in the local culture.
  7. Saint Virgin Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church (Zabbaleen Church): Located in the neighbourhood of Manshiyat Naser, commonly known as the “Garbage City,” this church provides a unique perspective on Coptic Christian life and the remarkable work of the Zabbaleen community, who have been recycling Cairo’s waste for generations.
  8. Al-Azhar Park: While not in Old Cairo, Al-Azhar Park is a short drive away and offers a peaceful escape from the city’s hustle and bustle. This beautifully landscaped park surrounds the historic Al-Azhar Mosque and provides stunning views of Cairo’s skyline.

Exploring these attractions near the Virgin Mary Church will allow you to delve deeper into the rich tapestry of history, culture, and faith that defines this part of Cairo, making your visit a truly enriching experience.


The Virgin Mary Church, also known as the Hanging Church, is a remarkable testament to the enduring faith and history of Egypt’s Coptic Christian community. This ancient church symbolises Egypt’s diverse cultural heritage with its rich architectural beauty, deep religious significance, and resilience through the ages.

As visitors step into the hallowed halls of the Virgin Mary Church, they are transported back to an era when Christianity in Egypt was in its infancy. The church’s timeless beauty and historical importance inspire awe and reverence, making it a must-visit destination for anyone exploring the fascinating city of Cairo.