Churches of Alexandria

The Art of Architecture during the Byzantium Period

Regretfully the numerous numbers of churches built in Alexandria during the Byzentium Period have completely disappeared The very few remains, disappeared during the period when Alexandria shrunk to a a small village inhabited by a few thousands.

The small village was in turn demolished to leave space for the growth of a modern city. Historical sources inform us of the name of some churches erected by the great Bishops of the city, such as Athenasius and Theosphilus, yet we ignore all as to their architecture or exact location following the changes that occurred in the city’s topography.

All that we can conclude from the descriptions is that most of the churches were built in the Baselica style which was popular in the Byzantium period. Baselica churches had pitched roofs supported by four huge pillars linked by arches supporting triangular curves, and wooden domes.We have heard that San Marco after his arrival to Alexandria had a large number of followers, for Christianity spread quickly, in fact oil colorings known as encaustic were not used in Christian art at first nor was it known in Byzantium art as well. A church was built in a place known as Baucallis near the sea, but we ignore if Christians at this early date possessed sufficient means to build a big church.

The oldest church in Alexandria at the time was that which was built by Bishop Theonas (282-300). The church was built near to the western harbor eunostsos, then it was rebuilt and it was enlarged by Bishop Alexander and earned the name of the Great Church of Alexander and became the resident of Bishops until the fourth century.

This is the same church, which was attacked by the Roman Battalion while the people were praying. In the sixth century the church lost some of its importance when the Caeserium become the principal church. The Arabs changed this church into a mosque bearing the name of the western mosque or the mosque of a thousand pillars (which means a building of the Basilica style) The History And Civilization of Alexandria Across the Ages 78 We also have the church of San Marco that lay on the beach where ships entering the eastern harbor could view it; undoubtedly it is far from the present San Marco’s church.

During the Arab conquest, we could see a marble cemetery enclosing the corpse of the founder of the Egyptian church. Merchants from Venice carried this same corpse away in the ninth century; they transported it to Italy besides the Caesareum.

This Caesareum was originally a temple built by Cleopatra in honor of Mark Anthony. Full construction was completed during the reign of Augustus, and became a Christian church during Constantine’s time. He became known
as Saint Michael even though the old name of Caesareum, until the Arab conquest. The church was demolished and rebuilt several times, example in the year 336 during the reign of Emperor Onas Thasuies the church was attacked by a group of revolutionary pagans and it was greatly damaged, Onas Thasius rebuilt the church in 368 during the period of Emperor Walter, since then it was the official church, but this did not continue for a long period following the invasion of the city.

In the year 370 Otheuasius inaugurated a church bearing his name in one of the district of the city called bandidion.This in turn was a famed church, and contained a large number of ancient pillars made from granite,and marble. There are numerous churches, whose names are all that remain. But we maybe able to reconstruct the style of Christian architecture in Alexandria during the Byzentium period. This could be achieved from studying the remains of churches found in the area of Mariout to the south and west of Alexandria. This region was in constant contact with the capital, depending on it to sell its products of. Olives, wheat and so on.

 

The study of the history of these buildings tells us how close the region was to the Bishops of Alexandria. The largest and most important of these buildings are found in the area of Abu Mena which lies about 60 kilometers from Alexandria in midst of the region of Mariout. Even though it is completely demolished presently,yet at some period it was thriving with life, attracting thousands of pilgrins, and visitors from all over the world.

Those piligrims, were attracted by the fame of the Saint and his international reputation. As is mostly the case with famous Saints and Clergies, we hear tales about the life of saint Mena and his deeds, to such an extent that truth, and imagination become hard to distinguish. But we can infer that he was among those martyrs who gave up their life for the sake of their religion. This martyrdom took place during the first part of the fourth century A.D. He was buried in cemetry in Mariout, that was sculpted in the rock. The type we find in Alexandria during the Roman period.

The Saint’s corpse was discovered in the middle of the same century. He possessed extraordinary capacities for the cure of sick people. Since that time the area increased in importance and became a point of focus for many people. This necessitated the construction of an important church that could house the increasing number of visitors, preserving them from the heat of the sun.

This isolated place was chosen and saint Athnasius undertook the building of a church which began in the year 364-363 and terminated prior to the death of Valentime I about 375. Remains, found presently denote that there was a large baselica in the form of the lettert having two internal rows of pillars, once more the church was no longer able to satisfy the purpose for which it was constructed to with hold great numbers of pilgrims who arrived to visit the place.

The Ampullae found there were also carried away by visitors as a benediction. Consequently Bishop Theophlus started to rebuild the place once more but on a large scale. Construction started during the reign of Emperor Arcadius (408-395) and was in shape to allow its official inauguration prior to his death, even though decoration, sculptor of marble and final finishes continued for numerous years. The new church was a basilica, having a T form style, just like the precedent, it had two rows of marble pillars carrying a wooden dome. This basilica is considered as one of the most gigantic buildings constructed in the country during that period and of which we have some relics.

Both churches, the church of Othenasius and the church of Thesphlcous were constructed a period when Alexandria was at the zenith of its glory, and were also built in a style similar to other churches built in the capital viewing their remains we can surely form an idea of the type of churches that were built in the city during this period.