The monastery of St. Samaan the Tanner at the heart Moqattam
is a very beautiful church. It was built to serve the local
inhabitants there who are predominantly Christian. They are
all of poor trash collectors who were moved there in late
1960s. They work on classifying garbage for recycling processes.
The inhabitants built their house in a primitive way and resumed
their other activities mainly breeding livestock particularly
The current building of the main church was laid in the 1970s
and the body of Saint Samaan the Tanner (the Shoemaker) was
later moved in it.
Several chapels were added later one and murals on the rocks
of the hill were carved to feature biblical scenes. The place
now is very picturesque and has a unique charm.
Saint Samaan, the patron saint of the church, is associated
with a miracle of moving the Moqattam hills in 979 AD.
It is said that Fatimid
(r. 952 - 975) was much interested in religious controversies
and debates between clerics of the three monotheistic religions,
Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
In one argument between two Jewish courtiers and the Coptic
Pope, the pope accused Jews of ignorance and when the Caliph
requested him to prove his talks, the pope recalled verses
of Biblical Prophet Isaiah who said, "The ox knows its
owner, and the ass its master's crib; but Israel does not
know, my people does not understand." (Isaiah 1:2-3)
The Jewish courtiers were so enraged and they decided to
One of them chanced upon the verse that the Lord Jesus has
said in the New Testament, "I tell you the truth, if
you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to
this mountain, "Move from here to there" and it
will move. Nothing will be impossible for you" (Matt
The two Jews rushed to the Caliph and told him Christians
should prove the righteousness of their religion by applying
this verse. They added that if Christians cannot move a mountain
they should be punished for the invalidity of their religion.
The Caliph agreed and called for the pope and gave him 4
choices to choose from:
1- To fulfill this commandment and move the eastern part
of the Moqattam
2- To espouse Islam and abandon Christianity on the account
that it is invalid.
3- To leave Egypt and emigrate to another country.
4- to be smitten by the sword all together.
The Caliph allowed the pope to have a 3 days respite after
which the pope should give his answer.
The pope was unhappy with what happened and issued a public
statement ordering all Christians in Egypt to fast from dawn
to sunset for 3 days. One day he saw Virgin Mary in a vision
guiding him to the salvation and leading him to the way out
of the ordeal. Virgin Mary ushered the pope to Saint Samaan
"Get out through the iron gate to the market place
and when you are on your way out, you will find a one-eyed
man in front of you carrying a jar of water; take hold of
him, for he is the man by whom the miracle will take place,"
Virgin Mary said to the pope.
The Pope obeyed the words and could find Saint Samaan. He
asked Saint Samaan to guide him and told him about his vision.
Saint Samaan responded, "My honorable father go up the
mountain and take along with you the religious leaders, the
deacons and the archdeacons, and make them carry on high the
Bibles, the crosses and the lit long candles, and the censers
full of incense. And ask the king and his retinue to go up
with you so you shall stand on one side of the mountain while
they stand on the side opposite you.
As for me I will stand among the people behind your felicity.
So after administering the holy sacraments, you raise up your
voice with all of the people repeating "Have Mercy, Lord"
four hundred times (100 to each of the 4 directions) then
keep silent for some moments and worship before God ... repeat
this 3 times and every time you stand up after worshipping,
draw the sign of the cross over the mountain and you shall
see the glory of God.
The pope carried out what Saint Samaan had told him and after
drawing the sign of cross after each prayer a great earthquake
hit the mountain as it raises up and the sun could be seen
from under below it.
Saint Samaan the Tanner disappeared from the crowds and he couldn't
be found, and this marked the relief for Christians in Egypt
saving them from the plot.
The caliph was panicked and frightened together with the multitudes
gathering with him. He entreated the Pope to stop what he
was doing and told him "you have proven that your faith
is a true one."