Tuesday 1 May is Mar-Girgis’s (St George’s) Day in Egypt’s Coptic Church. In the fourth century church of the Archangel Michael in Kafr al-Deir, Minya al-Qamh, in the East Delta province of Sharqiya, a beam of sunlight falls on the altar consecrated in the name of Mar-Girgis. The astronomical phenomenon takes place only three times every year and lasts for some 60 minutes during which Holy Mass is sung. The second date is 19 June, the Feast of the Archangel Mikhail, when the sunlight falls on the altar consecrated in his name, whereas the third occurs on 23 August, the date following the Feast of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin, on the altar in her name. It is not known, however, if this last date will continue to exhibit the sunlight on the altar of the Holy Virgin, since a nearby building is being constructed and may possibly block the sunlight.
The altars and domes of the church of St Michael were designed to an alignment that would allow in the sunlight to fall on the altars only on these dates at these specific hours. Since the astronomical phenomenon was publicised in 2014, the church has organised annual celebrations on the dates the sunbeams illuminate the altars.
The old church includes a treasure of old icons, Eucharist vessels, books, and other items that were over the centuries used in worship. It continues to attract archaeologists and Coptologists who make stunning discoveries.
Among the recent finds is a scroll that dates back to the 19th century.
Watani met Dr Randa Baleegh, professor of Egyptology at Mansoura University, who talked about the scroll. “It is a very long piece of paper wrapped around a wooden rod,” she said. “The original is missing; what we found is a copy. The scroll includes a document explaining that what is today St Michael’s church was a thriving monastery till the 19th century, and was the centre of interest of the then pope, Pope Boutros (Peter) VII, the 119th Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, also known as Boutros al-Gawli who was patriarch from 1809 – 1852.
The scroll reveals, among other things, financial arrangements that Pope Boutros VII made for the Monastery of the Archangel Mikhail, also measures for the supervision of the monks and deacons there.
“There is already a scroll similar in content and form, which was probably written by the same writer in the Coptic Museum in Cairo,” Dr Baleegh explained. But more studies are needed, she said, especially to locate the original scroll.
29 April 2018