Days 8 & 9, Egypt October 1 & 2, 2019
Tuesday was a rest day in Luxor. We didn’t complain. After pre-dawn start times and tours in grueling heat, a day off was great. We have completed all the outdoor sites. Late afternoon a number of us went to the Archeology Museum in Luxor. The guide would quiz us on this god or this king, and we proved what poor students we were. The museum has important objects from sites around Luxor, expertly displayed but I’d rather talk about day 9.
Wednesday we left Luxor early to transfer to Cairo for our last day. The first stop was the Cairo Archeological Museum. The number of items displayed were overwhelming. It is an older museum, without air conditioning, and it didn’t have the organization of the museum in Luxor. Dust covered everything. However, it still contained incredible artifacts. Egypt is in the process of building a new museum nearer the pyramids in Giza. I suppose that their energies are there. Already they are starting to transfer items from this museum to the new. I had heard contradictory reports whether the Tutankhamun (King Tut) items had already been transferred. Some have been, but we were not disappointed with what we saw.
There are four gold containers, highly decorated, that fit one inside the other with the sarcophagus in the center. They had the jars from his mummification, that would have held his four major inner organs removed during the mummification process. These were alabaster, which fit in an alabaster box, that fir in a gold box. There was a chair made of gold. We then entered a room where there is his famous mask, sarcophagus one and two, items of jewelry, etc. (sorry no photographs allowed.) This was the most exciting part of the museum for me, as well as many of the crowd. Luckily there are many photos of these items available elsewhere.
From the museum, Fr. Jay and I had made arrangements for a private tour of the old Coptic area. Coptic merely means Egyptian, but it most often describes Coptic Christians.
Egypt is 90% Muslim today, but in the 5th century Egypt was predominantly Christian. The Coptic Church traces is founding to the evangelist St. Mark during the first century AD. Although it had a slow start, it began to replace paganisn. Alexandria was one of five major Christian centers in the early Church. This is still so today. When Islam entered Egypt it was seen as a chance to remove Roman domination and Rome’s crippling taxes. Islam was then here to stay. Over time Islam began to replace christianity. The Christian minority today is predominantly Greek Orthodox, then Coptc Christian, then small groups of Roman Catholics and Protestants. Although there have been tough times for Christian’s, especially during Saddat’s leadership and ISIS, today the groups coexist well, so said our Coptic guide.
We visited the Hanging Church (Coptic), so called because it is built over the remains of a Roman fortress. So too St. George Greek Orthodox Church. But an intriguing thing is a church built over the site where the Holy Family took refuge during their escape from Herod to Egypt. There is a whole tradition of the Holy Family moving throughout Egypt through the three years and some until told to return. We also visited a synagogue, now a museum, that tradition says is the spot where Moses was taken out of the Nile as a baby. And where too Moses and Aaron discussed the liberation of the Hebrew slaves. The area is also where the first mosque was built.
This tour was a highlight of our trip and gave us a great chance to talk about the conditions of Christian’s in Egypt. You might remember the 21 Coptic Christian’s martyred by ISIS in the Sudan.
Egyptians have been suffering from the economy and bad press about riots and unrest. Certainly we didn’t see any signs of it. We were encouraged to let people know that Egypt is safe and worth visiting. I can confirm both in my experience. The only thing I’d suggest is to wait until the new museum opens in 2021.
Returning home tomorrow.