9 Egyptian Churches, Cathedrals and Monasteries You Need to Visit at Least Once
Because Egypt is a predominantly Muslim country, most non-Egyptians are unaware that Egypt has some of the oldest and most historically significant churches, cathedrals and monasteries in this part of the world.
You don’t need to be Egyptian or even Christian to appreciate the history of these centuries-old places of worship, or the beauty of the more modern ones.
While many of these churches can be found in Coptic Cairo, some are in more… remote places (Sinai mountains, anyone?). But whatever the destination, each of these churches, cathedrals and monasteries should be visited at least once.
1. The “Cave Church” - Monastery of St. Simon the Tanner
Location: Moqattam, Cairo
This awesome cave church (or technically, ‘churches’ -- the St. Simon monastery complex has seven churches) is unlike anything else we have in Egypt.
Carved into the Moqattam Hills, the main monastery hall can hold over 20,000 people and was named after the Coptic Saint Simon, who, according to legend, moved the Moqattam mountain in 979 AD as proof of the strength of his beliefs.
The cave church was built by the Zabbaleen community of Cairo’s Garbage City, and today is not only a religious spot but an educational center, kindergarten and school for the deaf.
2. St. Catherine’s Monastery
Location: Mount Sinai, Sinai Peninsula
Established: 6th century AD
Part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site (for other Egyptian heritage sites, head here), the Orthodox Saint Catherine Monastery is the oldest Christian monastery in the world still used for its original function.
According to UNESCO: “Its walls and buildings are of great significance to studies of Byzantine architecture and the Monastery houses outstanding collections of early Christian manuscripts and icons. The rugged mountainous landscape, containing numerous archaeological and religious sites and monuments, forms a perfect backdrop to the Monastery.”
St. Catherine's Monastery is at the foot of Mt. Sinai, where it's believed by the Abrahamic religions that Moses found the Burning Bush and received the 10 Commandments.
3. Wadi Natrun Monasteries
Location: Wadi Natrun Valley, northwest of Cairo
Established: 4th century AD
More than 1600 years ago, Saint Macarius of Egypt decided to build his monastery in the Natrun valley, known for its large alkali lakes. This attracted the attention of other Christian monks and hermits, who then decided to settle in Natrun as well, establishing four large early Christian developments.
The four Wadi Natrun Coptic monasteries that are still active to this day are:
The Monastery of Saint Macarius
The Monastery of Saint Bishoy
The Paromeos Monastery
The Syrian Monastery
All of the four can be seen and visited until today free of charge, but leaving a donation is always helpful in preserving these historic sites.
4. The Heavenly Cathedral
Location: Sharm el Sheikh
This modern church was considered by some one of the most beautiful in the world upon its completion over ten years ago, and is now an unexpected must-see for many Sharm el Sheikh visitors.
The exterior is simple, but the interior took a team of 19 people two years to create. There are frescoes and murals, and the walls depict Biblical scenes such as The Creation and Exodus, and on the ceiling there’s St. John’s vision of The Apocalypse.
5. The “Hanging Church” - Coptic Church of St. Virgin Mary
Location: Coptic Cairo
Established: 690 AD