An ancient Christian city dating to the fourth century AD has been discovered in Egypt.
Archaeologists digging at the Ain al-Sabil area of the New Valley Governorate have discovered the remains of a basilica and buildings to serve the priests. This is the first excavation at the site and researchers hope more discoveries will be made under the Egyptian sands.
Egyptian Christians trace their history back to just after the Crucifixion, when Saint Mark preached in the country. Called the Copts, these Christians make up anywhere from 5-23% of the population. Estimates vary so widely because the actual number is a politically contentious issue. Most sources agree that about 10% is the correct figure, meaning slightly more than 8 million people.
Copts have faced discrimination and deadly attacks ever since the Muslim conquest of Egypt in the seventh century AD. Periods of tolerance have alternated with periods of increased persecution. In recent years there have been many attacks against Egypt’s Coptic community, and Copts say the authorities have done little to help. Copts are most visible in towns such as Cairo and Minya. Cairo has an excellent Coptic Museum. About four million Copts live overseas and there is a community of about half a million in the Sudan.
The fourth century AD, on the other hand, was a high point in Coptic history. The majority of Egyptians were Christian at that time and Egyptian monasteries started the Christian monastic movement.
Image of Coptic icon of St. John the baptist courtesy Wikimedia Commons.