Restoration projects in the Delta
The Church of the Virgin Mary and Saint Abanoub in Samanoud was officially reopened this week and a restoration project started at the Al-Shenawy Palace in Mansoura, Nevine El-Aref reports
The town of Samanoud is located on the eastern bank of the Nile branch leading to Damietta and is not only one of Egypt’s most important administrative centres but also has a distinguished history, being the capital of the country in ancient times during the rule of the Third Dynasty.
It has a particular value for Egyptian Christians as the Holy Family passed by Belbeis, part of Samanoud, during their journey into Egypt. A church was built named after the Virgin Mary in Samanoud, and when this fell into ruins a new one was built on the same site named after St Abanoub.
The church today contains a courtyard containing a well believed to have been blessed by the infant Jesus, now covered to protect it from pollution, and a large granite bowl in which the Virgin is believed to have made bread. The bowl is also covered to protect it, and it now contains holy water that people can touch as a blessing.
The church contains a shrine containing the remains of Saint Abanoub the Martyr, and in the same region the relics of a further 8,000 early Christian martyrs can be found. The church was officially reopened this week by Minister of Antiquities Khaled Al-Enany after a period of restoration.
Head of the Islamic and Coptic Antiquities Department at the ministry Al-Said Helmi told Al-Ahram Weekly that in 2003 monks at the church had asked the then Supreme Council of Antiquities to restore it using funds that they would help provide.
The work began in 2005 under the supervision of the ministry and included the restoration of the building itself as well as its decorative elements.
The walls and foundations of the church have been consolidated, cracks repaired, and the ceiling covered to prevent the leakage of rain into the building. Damaged wooden elements were replaced by new similar ones and ruined plaster layers removed.
During his visit to the church for the reopening, the minister also embarked on an inspection tour of the Al-Shenawy Palace in Mansoura, giving the go-ahead to a long-awaited restoration project.
Gharib Sonbor, head of the Restoration Administration, told the Weekly that the palace was in poor condition because it had been used by the Mansoura University as an administration building. This had led to changes in the palace’s structure as well as to its internal decoration.
Preliminary restoration had taken place, Sonbol said, explaining that this had involved the consolidation of the ceilings and covering the roof with a protective layer halting the leakage of water into the building.
The restoration work would now start as soon as possible in order to rescue this great Italian-style palace, he said.
The palace belonged to Mohamed Bek Al-Shenawy, a former member of parliament. It was built in 1928 on 4,164 m2 and includes a basement and two main floors. It was subsequently designated a “House of the Nation” like nationalist politician Saad Zaghloul’s house in Cairo because it was a meeting point for political figures.
Al-Enany announced that after restoration the palace would be converted into a museum displaying artefacts discovered in Mansoura.