Its name, Al-Muallaka (the hanging), was given to it since it was built on the ruins of two old towers belonging to an ancient fortress known as the Fortress of Babylon. It was dedicated to The Virgin Mary and St. Dimiana.
The church was originally built at the end of the 3rd Century A.D. and beginning of the 4th Century A.D. although it has been reconstructed and renovated several times since. Some historians believe that may be older than most think, and was possibly an ancient Roman Temple that was later converted to a Roman Church, and then later still, a Coptic Church. Historians believe this to be true because of a 1984 discovery. At this time, it was noticed that the plaster over the western scenes, near the right aisle of the church, hid images of pagan Roman Gods.
This church has played an important role in the history of the Coptic Church because it was once the seat of the Patriarchs after it was transferred from Alexandria to Al-Fustat. The 66th patriarch, Anba Christodolos (1039-1079 A.D), was the first Pope to chant the Holy Liturgy in the church. This tradition was preserved in El-Mullaka Church until the 14th Century when it was transferred to Abu Sefein church
There are 110 icons here, the oldest of which dates back to the 8th Century. In 1898 A.D., the overseer of the church, Nakhla Al- Baraty Bey, bestowed some of them as gifts.
The French monk Vansleb, who was sent to Egypt in 1671 by King Louis XIV in order to study the state of the churches and the monasteries of Egypt, saw inscriptions on one of the walls of the Hanging Church. They were written by the hand of the great Muslim commander, Amr Ibn El-As, asking the Muslim people to treat this church with respect.
The Plan of the Church:
- It takes the shape of a basilica with a wooden roof resembling that of Noah's Ark.
- The original spacious church gradually became smaller, throughout the ages, after several modifications. Obeid Bin Khozam did the last modification in 1755 A.D. It now measures 23.5m in length, 18.5in width, and 9.5m in height.
It consists of the following elements:
- 1. The entrance, also known as the narthex.
- 2. The nave and the two aisles.
- 3. The three Sanctuaries (located to the east of the church, the most important being the middle one, which is dedicated to The Virgin Mary)
A series of steps lead to the middle entrance. On both sides are doors that lead to 2 upper floors, that were used for the private quarters of the priest commanding the church.
In front of the entrance, there is a vestibule that was used as a resting place for visitors.
Inside, the southern aisle is separated from the nave by 8 marble columns, linked from above with a wooden architrave, which is supported on arches. The northern aisle is also separated from the nave by 8 marble columns but there is no architrave.
Offset, in the middle of the southern aisle, is a door that leads to a small church with a sanctuary. Inside this small church is a baptistery, a deep basin of reddish granite, believed to be from the 5th century. It is decorated with Egyptian hieroglyphics for water.
The most renowned of the three sanctuaries situated on the eastern side is the middle one, which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. In the center of this main sanctuary, there is an altar made of marble. Above it, there is a wooden dome, supported by 4 marble columns, and decorated with religious scenes, including Jesus on his throne surrounded by the four evangelist saints, the disciples, and angels.
In front of the middle altar, in the nave of the church, is a pulpit that stands on 15 columns, decorated with reliefs and mosaics, symbolically representing Jesus, the 12 Disciples, John the Baptist, and the Virgin Mary.
There are 7 altars in the Church, 3 of them situated in the main sanctuary, and 3 located in the right sanctuary, among which is the altar of Tecla Hymanot, the Ethiopian Saint. Interestingly, on the north side, an alter was recently discovered.