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Coptic churches. These, however, are ample for the purpose.
You reach Old Cairo very easily by means of a tram line that runs from the central station behind the opera house at the foot of the Mouski to the ancient village itself. It is a ride affording an illuminating contrast between the old and the new, for most of the way lies through the handsomest residential quarter of the city, down by the Roda ferry, and finally comes to an end in Old Cairo, an unpretending hamlet, but nevertheless a sort of grandfather to the present capital.
In Old Cairo it is by no means amiss to hire a guide, simply because of the scattered locations of the interesting sites and their consequent obscurity. It is a long and dusty way from the tram to the first of the “lions" of the place, and no proper map exists to serve as a chart to the uninitiated. Hence it is well, on the first visit at least, to tolerate the hungry horde who may be depended upon to board the cars at the point where the highway diverges to the ancient mosque of Amr.
That mosque, sadly ruined as it is and reduced to a condition of almost complete disuse, is well worthy of your visit. Once a year, according to reports, it is still the scene of a considerable religious service attended by no less a personage than the Khedive. But to all seeming it is as deserted as one could well imagine for the rest of the year, save for the tottering custodian who collects the fees at the entrance gate.
Most of the columns which once graced its broad open court have disappeared and are represented at present only by their bases. But on the western side of the quadrangle there are still two perfect specimens - a pair of pillars closely set, between which the visitor is invited to squeeze his body, if he can. None but the honest may succeed; and it is considerably easier for the camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for any person inclined to embonpoint to wriggle through that narrow portal. Apparently the Arabs do not measure honesty as the Turks do beauty — in pounds avoirdupois.
For the rest the mosque offers a huge open square, larger than most such, and planted with trees which serve to shade a fountain and suggest in a mild way the famous court of oranges in the mosque of Cordova. The main sanctuary, with its pulpit, its prayer niche, and its rows of columns, has but little of interest to show. Yet the mosque as a whole, because of its vast size, its rows of trees, and above all its great age, is an impressive remnant of a dim and misty past. Nothing that the eye now beholds is capable of making any great claim to antiquity, of course, as the building has been the frequent prey of flood and tremor and has required to be set up again and again. But the site itself is venerable and the general picture is satisfying — from within, if not from without.
An open road leads southward for a space along an unattractive line of dust-hills to a starveling town in the midst of which lie the Coptic churches - and the latter afford the chief attraction of the place. The distance to them is not great, but the walk is a dusty one, unrelieved by any shade. Once the narrow byways of the hamlet are attained, however, the visitor finds himself deep in the cool lanes of an ancient city which proves a truly delightful spot. Every turn reveals some remnant of old architecture, doubly pleasant after the bareness of the mosque. Here, at least, it is clean - and as quaint as it is quiet and retired.
In one of these lanes lies the oldest of the Coptic sanctuaries for which the district is famous — the church of Abou Sergheh. Tradition relates all sorts of wonderful things about it which the critical will hardly accept for truth. It is impossible to believeso say the wise - that the upper portions of the structure, despite their obvious age, date back of the Mohammedan conquest; and it is quite as difficult to accept the story that the Virgin and our Saviour spent an entire month in the old crypt beneath, during their sojourn in Egypt. I entertain the belief, however, that the skeptic is always to be pitied in such a case, for he is certain to lose much, wherever he goes, by refusing to accept whatever is set before him. It is comfortable to go about this earth, if one can, with the trusting spirit of the little child, largely uncritical and equipped above all else with abundant reserve funds of credulity for use in just such places as the crypt of Abou Sergheh!
The church itself is dim and old. In arrangement it is very like the Greek churches, and the service, while conducted in what passes for the ancient Coptic tongue, differs but little to outward seeming from the orthodox Greek ritual. The priest conducts his office from the central door of the iconostasis, just as one sees him doing in Hellas. The surroundings are much the same — few seats, many gratings, much obscurity, and pervading all the subtle and fascinating flavor of vast age. When we entered it the old priest was engaged in baptizing a baby of Coptic parentage
- a charming picture. The venerable clergyman, assisted by one or two boys, was apparently on the best of terms with the father and mother, and the whole effect was of a delightful personal religion quite unlike the solitary praying of the Moslems. When it was all over, the old man took a taper and led us down the gloomy flight of steps that led to the regions below, a cramped and musty cellar, but one which I have no doubt he regarded as sacred and holy ground.
There is another large Coptic church not many rods away, gloriously furbished up and restored after the blatant manner of most restorations; but it cannot compare with the delightful old shrine of St. Sergius, where the ancient worship still goes on as we may believe it did in the time of the blessed St. Mark, in a language which neither priest nor penitent pretends longer to understand.
I may have remarked elsewhere that the Copts claim to be the lineal descendants of the first Christians converted by St. Mark at Alexandria, and the name “Coptos " is said to be simply a Greek corruption of the word 'ALYÚTTOS (Egyptian) — which seems plausible. In any case it is interesting to find this old worship going on as of yore on a site dedicated from the first to Christian purposes.
It remains to speak of what is perhaps the choicest possession of Cairo— the magnificent museum. Of that, however, it is hopeless to say much in detail. The scope of that treasure-house of priceless antiquities is so vast that no casual reference, such as these pages will permit, can have any value. It is the place to which one goes again and again, day after day, striving to comprehend what it all means — to ap