Heading to church in a cave is most likely a unique experience. However, over 20,000 Christians gather weekly to worship at Cairo’s Cave Church. The cave is also known as the Monastery of Saint Simon, and it is located in the Mokattam Mountain.
Who is St. Simon?
Before we add any details, let’s first talk about St. Simon and Mokattam Mountain. To do that, we must return to the Hanging Church of Cairo. Pope Abraham, the head of the Coptic Christian church received a request from the reigning caliph, al-Muizz. He wanted Abraham to prove the scripture in the bible which talked about the faith of a mustard seed moving a mountain. Abraham asked for three days of preparation and began praying to the Virgin Mary through an icon at the Hanging Church. The Virgin Mary appeared to Abraham and told him to seek out Simon the Tanner as he would provide direction in moving the mountain. Abraham did, and he was able to use the words given by Simon to lift the mountain and appease al-Muizz.
While this is likely the same Mokattam Mountain and the same St. Simon, the cave church was not actually constructed until 1976. From that time on more churches have been built into Mokattam, with the Monastery of Saint Simon being the largest. It seats 20,000 with other congregants gathering outside. Today the Cave Church of Saint Simon in Mokattam is the largest church in the middle east.
The History of the Zabbaleen area
The question arises how and why did this church come to be? Let’s go back in history to the 1940s. The Zabbaleen, a group of people who descended from farmers in Upper Egypt, began to flee their homes by coming to the city of Cairo. They began to make settlements and kept to their traditions of raising animals but soon realized sorting the waste produced by those living in Cairo was more profitable. They would salvage and sell items of value and use the organic waste as food for their animals. Word of their success went back to the villages, and more people moved to the city. With increased numbers of garbage collectors living throughout the city, the Cairo governor decided he needed to do something. So, in 1969 he moved all the garbage collectors to the same community. Their community has since swelled from 8,000 in the 1980s to around 30,000 today.
A tour in the Cairo Cave Church
As for the Cave Church, it is amazing. Getting there??? It’s a little arduous. You must first pass through the community that still collects and recycles all the garbage for Cairo. Once you do, you will be amazed with the church. Huge reliefs adorn the sides of the cliffs and the insides of the sanctuaries. Many of the sculptures depict the life of Jesus, including when he was resurrected. All the churches built into the cave are connected together, and you are able to wander through the area, taking in the beautiful works of art. Should you need to rest or reflect, you will be able to sit in the large amphitheater seating while admiring the serene setting. This site is totally worth the effort it will take to get to it.