Called by the name of the Hanging Church, the Church of the Virgin Mary in the Coptic Cairo enjoys a popularity among both Copts and tourists. It was named the Hanging Church, or al-Muallaqa in Arabic, due to its location above the ancient Babylon fortress. The other names for the same complex are the Church of Steps, for people have to climb a flight of stairs before reaching the gate of the church; the Church of the Column, for it was reported that the Virgin Mary herself appeared to the faithful on one of the columns of the church in response to their supplications.
Al-Mu’izz, a Fatimid caliph, asked Patriarch Abraham (975-978) to prove the truth of a verse in the Bible by moving the Moqattam Mountain in order to prove the words of the gospel that “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain: Remove from hence to yonder place, and it shall remove“ (Matthew 17-20).
After three days of praying and fasting in front of the painting of the Virgin Mary depicted on a column in al-Muallaqa, the Virgin Mary appeared to the Patriarch Abraham in a vision and told him what to do. After witnessing the miracle, Al-Mu’izz was convinced of the truth of the Christian belief and allowed the Coptic Church with certain privileges.
The Hanging Church is possibly the first built in a Basilican style. It was probably built during the patriarchate of Isaac (690–692), though an earlier church building may have elsewhere existed dating as early as the 3rd or 4th century. The Seat of the Coptic Orthodox Pope of Alexandria was, historically, Alexandria, Egypt. But as ruling powers moved away from Alexandria to Cairo after the Arab invasion of Egypt during Pope Christodolos’ tenure, Cairo became the fixed and official residence of the Coptic Pope at the Hanging Church in 1047.