Join your guide on this religious tour looking into the life of Saint Simon the Tanner in Cairo, Egypt.
Saint Simon the Tanner (St. Sama’an, in Arabic) lived towards the end of the tenth Century when Egypt was ruled by the Fatimid Caliph, Al- Muizz and Anba Abram was the Coptic Pope. At the time, the Copts (Christians) in Egypt were engaged in handicrafts. St Simon worked in one of the crafts widespread in Babylon (Old Cairo) which was tanning, a craft still known there till this day. This profession involved also other crafts that depend on the process, from where he carried several titles related to skins; St Simon the Tanner, the Cobber, the Shoemaker.
The Monastery, located on the opposite side of the road leading to the Citadel contains seven Churches and Chapels hidden in a series of caves in the Mokattam (Muqattam) hills. The Monastery was erected and dedicated to him a thousand years after his miracle and his death. It lies behind “Mansheiyet Nasser”, the Zabbalin village (garbage collectors). This village was erratically established in 1969 when the Governor decided to move all the garbage collectors of Cairo to one of the hills of the Mokattam. There, they built themselves primitive houses of tin. The number of trash collectors living in the area reached about 15.000 in 1987. This number has doubled now.
Reaching the monastery is quite a difficult approach. Amazingly, the people there will point you in the right direction knowing your destination without even being asked. The Monastery is reached through the narrow village streets, trash carts passing you by along with piles of rubbish, plastics and tins on the sides of the alleys with people sorting them out. Even if described in detail, the Zabbalin village is a hard place to picture, far from one’s imagination; it can only be grasped on sight. At the far end of the village, awaits you an unexpected, stunning place; a vast open space lying in the bosom of the hills, with dramatic colored carvings all over the mountain. The carvings were done by a Polish Artist who begun working there several years ago. They represent stories from the Bible such as the Holy Family journey and the Nativity scene.
The main Cathedral there is named after the Virgin Mary and St Simon in commemoration of the legend of transferring the Mokattam Mountain in November 979 when Simon the Tanner was chosen to fulfill this miracle. According to Coptic sayings, the Caliph Al Muizz, an enlightened man, was fond of literacy gatherings and inviting different religious leaders to debate in his presence with neither anger nor contention. In one of those meetings in which Pope Abram and a Jew named Jacob Ibn Killis were present, the Pope got the upper hand in the debate. Plotting to take revenge, Ibn Killis quoted the verse where the Lord Jesus said in Mt 17:20: “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to the mountain, Move from here to there, and it will move, nothing will be impossible for you” and demanded him to prove that his religion is right by means of this. The Caliph saw in this an opportunity to remove the mountain that was spoiling his view. At the same time, if they proved unable to do so, it would be the proof that the religion of the Christians was wrong and he would be done away with them completely or so goes the Legend. And so, after 3 days of prayers and fasts by the people throughout the land of Egypt, Simon was chosen to move the Mokattam Mountain. It is said that a great earthquake swept over the mountain. Each time the people stood up to worship, the mountain was thrust up and the sun would be seen from under it. When the people sat down, the mountain thrust down. This was repeated three times.