- At the Amir Tadros Church, water dripped from exposed pipes in the ceiling days after rescue workers had put out the blaze.
Local residents said the church had been attacked by mobs of mostly young men chanting anti-Christian slogans. They launched Molotov cocktails at the church. Without police protection, parishioners who had raced to the church's defense fled.
We weren’t allowed to walk through the entire church because, we were told, the place was too dangerous and the ceiling was in danger of collapse. But some of the parishioners pointed to an image of Jesus behind the altar.
It seemed significant, they said, that this was the only wall painting among many that decorated the sanctuary walls to have survived the fire.
We toured through a few rooms along the exterior that still bore clues of the church administration they once housed: Papers, books, coffee cups and lamps, all singed and broken by fire.
The floor of the church’s nave was covered in mangled and partly burned books - hymnals, bibles and liturgical texts. Many were written not in Arabic but in Coptic, the language of the Coptic Christian church that derives from the same words spoken by the pharaohs in Ancient Egypt.
The church and its contents were a reminder that while Copts are a minority, their presence here predates Islam and the Arabic language's own arrival in Egypt.
Church workers were already rebuilding, preparing for their next mass. They brought carpets and paintings of Jesus and various saints into the church courtyard where they had erected a temporary space for mass.
Later, we visited the burned-out remains of the Bishop Moussa Church a few miles away. The church was locked shut, but I was able to shoot a few images from the street.
The church is situated in a conservative Muslim-majority neighborhood and the atmosphere was tense. As local neighbors gathered, our Coptic guides told us to quickly get back into our cars to avoid trouble with residents they considered hostile.
We went back alone a few minutes later without the guides. After asking around, we found a local Coptic Christian resident named Osama.
He laughed when we told him that we had been advised to steer clear of the neighborhood. He introduced us to his Muslim neighbors and said that despite the religious divisions, he had never experienced any real sectarian tension before last week.
To prove it, he said he had been one of five Christian men who had spent several hours defending the church from angry thugs during Wednesday’s violence.
During the fight, they were joined by five Muslim men from the neighborhood. They had come to defend the church, and to risk their lives in the effort.
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