The Church of St. Barbara (OLD CAIRO)
Athanasius of Edessa, scribe (katib) of amir zAbd al-Aziz ibn Marwan (685-705) founded a second church in Old Cairo, known as the Church of St. Barbara. Because of their similar architecture, Sts. Sergius and Bacchus and St. Barbara are often considered ‘twin churches’ or ‘sister churches.’
Originally, the church was dedicated to St. Cyrus (Abu Qir/Apa Kir) or St. Cyrus and St. John, brothers, physicians, and martyrs venerated for healing. The first mention of St. Barbara in relation to this church is found in a thirteenth-century manuscript of the Coptic Synaxarion (Calendar of Saints), which states that the relics of St. Barbara were preserved in the Church of St. Cyrus in Old Cairo. Western pilgrims reported on the Church of St. Barbara from the thirteenth century onward. By then, it was one of the most important churches in Cairo.
Barbara was the daughter of a nobleman, Dioscoros, who built a tower with two windows in order to keep her safe and in seclusion. When Barbara had a window added to honor the holy Trinity, her father found out that she had become a Christian and handed her over to the magistrate.
She suffered martyrdom together with St. Juliana, who saw her sufferings and wept, whereupon she too was tortured and killed.
Like the Church of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus, this church was built on a basilican plan with a tripartite sanctuary and upper floor galleries. However, the building suffered considerable damage over the centuries and subsequent reconstructions and restorations affected the original structure. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the church was restored and modernized again; the khurus screen and the screens dividing the women’s and men’s sections in the nave of the church were removed. The beam icon of the khurus screen, once spanning the width of the nave and part of an eighteenth-century restoration and refurbishing, is on display (in four parts) on the south wall of the church. A precious thirteenth-century icon of the Virgin and Child is preserved in the north aisle. Treasures that once belonged to the Church of St. Barbara are now exhibited in the Coptic Museum, for example, a wooden door (fourth I fifth century, found between two walls during the latter restoration) and a unique eleventh-century wooden altar screen?’
A small church at the northeastern end of the church is still dedicated to the Saints Cyrus and John.