Derived from the Greek word ¥mbwn, ambon, the ambo (Arabic, anbil) is a raised pulpit that stands at the northeast side of the nave. It is built of white or colored marble, stone, or wood, supported on pillars, and is reached by a staircase. It is sometimes carved with crosses and flowers, finely sculptured and filled with rich designs. It can also be decorated with the images of the four evangelists or inscriptions of certain verses from the Bible. On the ambo of the Church of Saint Mercurius (DAYR ABU SAYFAYN) in Old Cairo are inscribed the words from Psalm 107:32, “Let them extol him in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders.”
From the ambo the Gospel is sometimes read to the people, and also certain addresses such as papal or episcopal encyclicals and messages. Particular use is made of it during Holy Week, as on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, when the priest and deacons ascend the ambo, bearing with them crosses, candles, and icons of the Crucifixion.
Many old Coptic churches still have their original ambos, despite the ravages of time. A. J. Butler supplies detailed descriptions of the ambos of some churches in Old Cairo. In the CHURCH OF AL-MU‘ALLAQAH “the body of the ambo has a coping of white marble carved with most exquisitely minute and graceful pendentives” (Butler, 1884, p. 218). At the Church of Saint Mercurius in Dayr Abu Sayfayn, “the pillars and wedges are covered with a minute mosaic of coloured marble and shell-pearl,” whereas the ambo of Mar Mina Church is “inlaid with various devices in red, black and white marble mosaic, while the side of the balcony is formed by a slab of white marble carved with five beautiful designs in low relief . . . three are large conventional roses, the other two in panels dividing them represent graceful vases overflowing with chrysanthemums and other flowers” (Butler, p. 50). An outstanding pulpit made of wood that dates from the eighteenth century can be seen in the Church of Saint Mercurius in Harit Zuwaylah.
- Butler, A. J. The Ancient Coptic Churches of Egypt. Oxford, 1884.
- Malati, T. Y. Al-Kanisah Bayt Allah. Alexandria, 1982.
- Simaykah, M. Dalil al-Mathaf al-Qibti wa-Ahamm al-Kana’is wa- al-Adyurah al-Athariyyah, pt. 1. Cairo, 1932.