Ancient Egypt gave rise to one of the world's oldest Christian faiths

Christianity’s origins are found in many places, including Egypt, where Coptic Christianity flourished shortly after the death of Jesus.

Pagan Past

Frescoes of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the Apostles, evangelists, prophets, and angels adorn the walls of the church of the Red Monastery, built in the late fifth century A.D. as part of the flowering of Coptic culture in Egypt.
Photograph by PEDRO COSTA GOMES

Egypt, land of the pyramids, is the setting for many of the best known tales from the Old Testament. Through Moses, God punishes the Egyptian pharaoh for holding the Hebrew people in bondage. Betrayed by his brothers, young Joseph suffers in slavery in Egypt before rising to become vizier, second in power only to Pharaoh.

When turning to the New Testament, many people think of the lands of Israel and Palestine, the places where Jesus was born and preached. Egypt, however, also provides a key location in his story: a safe haven for the Holy Family. In the Gospel of Matthew, Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus flee from Jerusalem and King Herod, who wanted to kill the child. The family stays in Egypt until the danger has passed.

In addition to its important place in Scripture, Egypt was a fertile garden in the early flowering of Christianity. From the first century A.D., as the faith took root and began to grow, Egypt became an important religious center, as theologians and scholars flocked there. Egyptian Christianity developed its own distinctive flavor, shaped by the words, culture, and history of ancient Egypt. This branch of Christianity would become the Coptic Orthodox Church, and its followers would be known as Coptic Christians, or, more simply, as Copts.

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