The Old Cathedral of St. Mark (AZBAKIYA)
THE CATHEDRAL IS SITUATED on al-Murqusiya Street, Darb al-Wassa’ (Clot Bey). Ibrahim al-Guhari, the famous Coptic official, was able to obtain permission from the Ottoman sultan to build a Coptic church in Azbakiya. Girgis al-Guhari, his brother, oversaw the completion of the church. In the late eighteenth century the church became the patriarchal residence of Patriarch Mark VIII (1796-1809). The church was later replaced by a cathedral. Patriarch Cyril IV (1854-1861) began the construction of the new cathedral, and it was finished during the patriarchate of Demetrius II (1862-1870). It housed the Coptic patriarchate from the 1850s until 1968, when the new cathedral was inaugurated at Anba Ruways, ‘Abbasyia. The interior decoration was executed in the time of Patriarch Cyril V (1874-1927).
The cathedral was constructed in the style of nineteenth-century Greek Orthodox churches, with two rows of marble columns separating the nave from the northern and southern aisles. A wooden ambon is attached to one of the northern columns. It is reached by a spiral staircase. Three sanctuaries stand in the eastern part of the cathedral. They are separated from the nave by a continuous wooden screen. The central sanctuary, which is dedicated to St. Mark, features a marble synthronon that lies behind the altar. The northern sanctuary is dedicated to St. George and the southern to St. Mercurius. The paintings and the icons of the cathedral are executed in the Italo-Byzantine style of the nineteenth century. The semi-dome of the nave and the dome of the central altar are ornamented with Christ Pantocrator. The screen of the sanctuaries is decorated with icons representing Christ, the Virgin Mary, apostles, and saints.