The monastery of Samaan Al-Kharraz (Simon the Tanner) is located at the top of the Moqattam Mountain, with six churches carved into the rock of the mountain.
Unfortunately, Moqattam Mountain currently serves as a lower-class residential area, not as a tourist site, and only few people know that this area has such a mesmerising site. The monastery’s location is also one of the places where the Holy Family hid during their Biblical journey to Egypt.
In the reign of Al-Mu’izz li-Din Allah, the fourth ruler of the Fatimid caliphate in Egypt, he had a minister named Ya’qub ibn Killis, who was Jewish. He informed Al-Mu’izz that the Christian Gospel says, “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
Al-Mu’izz ordered Coptic Pope Abraham of Alexandria, who is now venerated as a saint by the Coptic Orthodox Church, to move Moqattam Mountain. The saint asked Al-Mu’izz to give him some time. Abraham continuously fasted for three days until he fainted and saw the Virgin Mary in a dream, who told him about a man would help him move the mountain.
That man was Simon the Tanner. He had two jobs: he worked as a shoe repairman and he also distributed water to poor people. He helped to move the mountain from Ramses area. After the transfer of Moqattam, Saint Samaan disappeared into one of the caves of the mountain. Later, a monastery was built in the same place.
Miracle or myth?
Whether the story is grounded in reality is a controversial issue; there are people who believe it is a miracle and others who think it is a myth, and both groups present some evidence.
People who believe that it was a miracle say mould, snails, and snail trails found in the limestone and clay stones of Moqattam Mountain were discovered.
This, they say, proves that the Nile River had been flowing for thousands of years near the edge of Moqattam, and suddenly, the mountain moved far away from the Nile.
People who believe that it is a myth say the story is not mentioned in many history books. The evidence of this is that the book History of the Coptic Orthodox Church, one of the most famous books of the Coptic Church, did not mention that news, nor did the European historians mention it in their books.
So far, there is no clear conclusion to which side is right.
The most beautiful characteristic of the church is the stories carved into the mountain rocks.
One story is told through a set of carvings on the walls of the mountain. The sculptures tell the story of the birth of Jesus and how the grazers followed his path to where he was born through the heavy instant growth of plants in the area. Following them led the grazers to the exact birth place of Jesus.
Then, the next carvings tell the story of the miracle of Lazarus’ resurrection about Lazarus, Jesus’ disciple who was dead and buried for four days. Jesus went to his grave and raised him back from death, according to the Gospel.
Another story told through the carvings is the aforementioned story of the transfer of Moqattam and how the miracle took place while people were sincerely praying all day long until sunset, until—as they believe—the miracle happened.
There is also a sculpture with statues of Mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Mary, the daughter of one of Jesus’ disciples.
Moreover, there is a sculpted part that tells the story of Joseph and Zuleikha, Potiphar’s wife. Potiphar is said to have been the captain of the palace guard in Egypt.
Also carved is the story of Samson, who was one of the last judges who ruled Israel and, according to tradition, had incredible physical strength. His people wanted to find out the secret of Samson’s power, so they used his lover, a woman named Delilah, to seduce him and reveal the secret of his strength, which they found out to be his hair.
The last story that is carved is the story of Saint Simon the Tanner (Samaan Al-Kharraz), who worked as a shoe repairman. One day, when he looked at the legs of a beautiful woman whom he was repairing a shoe for, he poked his eye out with his needle to punish himself for his lust.
There are frequent tours to the monastery as it is hard to reach for regular people. Tours only typically cost about EGP 40.