From the time of Saint MARK, the first patriarch of the Egyptian church, the Coptic patriarchs resided at Alexandria, the cradle of Egyptian Christianity. This was the first patriarchal seat in Egypt, but there were also others, depending on historical circumstances.
Eutychius (877-940), Melchite patriarch of Alexandria, in his masterwork, the Annales (PG 111, cols. 1068-70), placed the seat of the Coptic patriarch at DAYR ANBA MAQAR. Certainly Evelyn- White (1932, pp. 236ff.) gave no credence to this isolated testimony. However, it would give a basis for the medieval custom, otherwise unwarranted, according to which patriarchs had to be enthroned not only at Alexandria or Cairo but also at Dayr Anba Maqar. According to that custom, the patriarch had to spend Lent, or at least the week preceding Easter, at Dayr Anba Maqar, during which period he often solemnly consecrated the chrism, surrounded by numerous bishops. These reports attest the number and localization of these Egyptian bishops. This was in all probability the second seat of the Coptic patriarch.
For the decade 965-975, the patriarchal seat was at the village of Mahallat Danyal in the district of Tidah, probably with some interludes at Alexandria. The village has now disappeared, and today the district is known as Kafr al-Shaykh, so it is difficult to specify the dates of the patriarch’s sojourn. A good judge of the history of the vicissitudes of these patriarchal residences, Kamil Salih Nakhlah (1943, pp. 89ff.), vaguely indicates these different residences: MINA II (956-974) resided in the Delta and then at Mahallat Danyal. His successor, ABRAHAM (975-978), lived at the CHURCH OF AL-MU‘ALLAQAH in Old Cairo, but his successor, Philotheus (979-1003), is said to have resided at Damru.
Philotheus was persuaded to establish the seat of the patriarchate there by Macarius, secretary of the synod, who had a brother living there, as was Menas, the bishop of Tanah. This patriarchal seat at Damru began with him and lasted until the departure for Old Cairo around 1061. There were, however, exchanges with al-Mu‘allaqah of Misr (Old Cairo), the first capital of the Muslim occupation. The small town of Damru in the Delta (about 10 miles north of al-Mahallah al- Kubra) remained the seat for nearly a hundred years.
If, as seems likely, the patriarchs had left their residence in Alexandria for different towns in the Delta because of a severe famine, they probably chose to establish themselves at Misr to be closer to the political heads of the country. One may consider Misr as a whole, even if the patriarch resided now in al-Mu‘allaqah, now in the Church of Abu Sayfayn (Saint Mercurius), although one cannot set a term to such residence in each of them. The Church of Saint Sergius (Abu Sarjah), without being regarded as the residence of the patriarch, had the privilege of being the site of certain solemn ceremonies (such as patriarchal consecrations), which created animosity between the clergy of al-Mu‘allaqah and Abu Sarjah. Nakhlah conjectures that the residence at al-Mu‘allaqah began under the patriarch KHA’IL III (880-907), with sojourns at the Dayr Anba Maqar and in the Delta.
But it was the patriarch CHRISTODOULOS (1047-1077) who definitively transferred the patriarchal residence to Old Cairo. Despite the difficulty in stating the limits of each patriarchal residence in al-Mu‘allaqah and Abu al- Sayfayn, Nakhlah dates the seat at al-Mu‘allaqah from Christodoulos (about 1061) to Michael V (1145-1146), who also resided at Abu Sayfayn. His successor, John V (1147-1167), is said to have resided at Abu Sayfayn, while his successor Mark III (1167-1189) once again chose al-Mu‘allaqah as the patriarch’s place of residence, which it remained down to Theodosius II (1294-1300), who resided first at al-Mu‘allaqah, then at Abu Sayfayn, although at what date the transfer took place is uncertain. The following patriarch, John VIII (1300-1320), moved the patriarchal residence to HARIT ZUWAYLAH.
In Greater Cairo are Harit Zuwaylah and Harit al-Rum. It appears that the desire to be nearer to the civil power led to the move to the new capital, Cairo, founded in A. D. 969 by Jawhar al- Siqilli. At first, the residence was at Harit Zuwaylah, adopted by the patriarch JOHN VIII (1300-1320) at a date impossible to determine, a decision adhered to by his successors down to MATTHEW IV (1660-1675), who began (at an unknown date) to reside at Harit al-Rum. The residencies in Harit Zuwaylah and Harit al-Rum were briefly interrupted by the sojourn of the patriarch MATTHEW III (1634-1649) at TUKH, of which he was a native.
The Murqusiyyah Church was the sixth location of the patriarchal residence. The patriarch MARK VIII (1796-1809) transferred the patriarchal seat from Harit al-Rum to the Murqusiyyah.
The present residence is within the compound of the new Saint Mark’s Cathedral at Anba Ruways in the quarters of Abbasiyyah in Cairo. This residence is on the site of the ancient DAYR AL- KHANDAQ, which included several churches in the Middle Ages.
- Breddy, N. Das Annalenwerk des Eutychios von Alexandrien. CSCO 471-472.
- Evelyn-White, H. G. The Monasteries of the Wadi ‘n Natrun, pt. 2, The History of the Monasteries of Nitria and of Scetis. New York, 1932.
- Kamil Salih Nakhlah. Kitab Tarikh wa Jadawil Batarikat al-Iskandaryyah al-Qibt. Tarikh al-Ummah al-Qibtiyyah 4. Dayr al-Suryan, 1943.
- Meinardus, O. Christian Egypt, 2nd ed. Cairo, 1977.
- Muhammad Ramzi. Al-Qamus al-Jughrafi lil-Bilad al Misriyyah. 2 vols. Cairo, 1953-1963.