The Kom el Shoqafa catacombs of Alexandria were lost to the world for many centuries until discovered accidentally in 1900. The oft-cited tale of their discovery, that a donkey fell through the ceiling from the road above, may or may not be true.
The catacombs were carved from the bedrock in the 2nd century CE and used for about 200 years. They consist of three levels, with a central shaft. A funerary temple likely also stood on the surface over the tunnel entrance. A staircase winds around the shaft, which may have been used to lower bodies of the deceased to their final resting place. On the first level below the surface, there is a banquet hall, the Triclinium, where families of the deceased would feast at the time of burial and on periodic visits thereafter. The name of the catacombs, Kom el Shoqafa, translates to pile of shards, which refers to the large amounts of broken pottery found at the site. The pottery containing food for the funerary and memorial feasts was broken and left behind because it was considered tainted by the place of death. The 2nd and 3rd levels hold burial niches and chambers, including the so-called Hall of Caracalla, which contains the mass burial of Christians slaughtered by the Roman emperor Caracalla. The 3rd level is currently inaccessible due to flooding.
Kom el Shoqafa was built at a time of convergence of three cultures – Egyptian, Greek and Roman; and the unique, hybrid style of architecture and art within the necropolis may be its most interesting feature. Egyptian-style sarcophagi have been found, as well as niches for the remains of those who followed the Greek and Roman tradition of cremation.
We recommend visiting Kom el Shoqafa with a licensed guide.
Here are some random shots of Egypt:
The name Copt derives from the Greek word for Egyptian. One of the first Christian churches, the Coptic Church was established in Alexandria, Egypt in the middle 1st century, only a decade or so after the death of Jesus. According to tradition the apostle Mark, author of the Gospel of Mark, founded the church.
Most Egyptians were Christian until the 10th century, when Islam became dominant. Today, about 10% of Egyptians are Coptic Christian.
As one of the oldest Christian churches, the Coptic Church laid a foundation for the development of all Christian denominations. The first Christian theological school was founded in Alexandria in 190 and it was in Egypt that the Christian monastic tradition first developed. The Egyptian desert was the place to be for early Christian monks and contemplatives. Patriarchs of Alexandria, heads of the Coptic Church beginning with St. Mark, were very influential in the development of Christianity in general, presiding over the first three ecumenical councils in the 4th and 5th centuries.
At the 4th Ecumenical Council in 451 at Chalcedon (modern Kadıköy, a district of Asian Istanbul), the Egyptian Church split away from the larger Church over the nature of Jesus. The Roman Church held that Jesus was of two natures, human and divine, and that these two natures were complete and distinct within the one person of Jesus. Based on the writings of Patriarch Cyril of Alexandria, the Coptic Church understood Jesus to be of one unique nature, both human and divine. The disagreement was largely semantic but was the basis of the first division in the Christian Church.
The modern St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria is the most recent in a series of previous churches built on the site, according to tradition, of the original church founded by St. Mark in the 1st century.
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