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Monastery of St. Samaan the Tanner in Moqattam Hills Monastery of St. Samaan the Tanner in Moqattam Hills
Photo by Raymon Kondos
© 2009 Your Egypt

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 pigs.

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.

   
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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 CaliphWhat does it mean? Al-Muezz (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 reiterate.

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 17:20)

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.

   
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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 the Tanner.
"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.
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."

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.
       
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