On our recent trip to Jordan, Israel, and Egypt, there were a handful of sites where we were not allowed to take pictures; interestingly enough, they all happened to be in Egypt. Fortunately, through the miracle of "the internets," we are able to share those sights on this blog.
The Church of the Holy Family
This church, also called the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus (Abu Serga) is a 4th century church and today is considered to be the oldest of Cairo's Christian churches. It is dedicated to two early martyrs and traditionally believed to have been built on the spot where Joseph, Mary, and the infant Jesus rested at the end of their journey into Egypt. They may have lived here while Joseph worked nearby. The church is dedicated to Sergius and Bacchus, who were soldier-saints that were martyred during the 4th century in Syria by the Roman Emperor, Maximilan.
The entrance to the church (above) is a nondescript entrance off a narrow street. I'm not sure you'd find it if you didn't know where to look! The building was probably constructed during the 5th century. It was burned during the fire of Fustat during the reign of Marwan II around 750. It was then restored during the 8th century, and has been rebuilt and restored constantly since medieval times.
It is considered to be a model of the early Coptic churches and its basilican style is easily recognizable. It has two aisles with a western return aisle (a passage at the west end of the church), along with a tripartite sanctuary that measures 17 x 27 meters and is 15 meters high. Within the sanctuary is an altar surmounted by a wooden canopy supported by four pillars. On the east wall of the sanctuary rises a fine, semi-circular tribune with seven steps. There was probably a khurus, a transverse room preceding the sanctuary, in front of the sanctuary, but if so it no longer exists.
On one side of the apse is an ancient entrance to a crypt (below), which contains the remains of the original church where tradition says the Holy Family lived in Egypt. Unfortunately, this area of the church has sometimes been inaccessible due to the presence of subterranean water (we could only stand at the railing and look down into it). Originally this crypt, which is under the modern sanctuary, was itself the sanctuary of the church, but became the crypt after the larger church was built.