Deir El Sultan
During the reign of the Muslim Sultan Al Mo-ez (1033-1054),
Egyptian delegates used to carry the Gezia money (Islamic taxes)
collected from the Copts of Egypt, and bring it to the Muslim Caliphate in
Baghdad. Once, the delegate was attacked by thieves, and hid the Gezia
money in the Coptic Patriarchate. That is why the Sultan Al Mo-ez granted
Deir-El-Sultan to the Coptic families - for their loyalty, and as a rest-house his delegates.
Deir El Sultan lies on the roof of
the Holy Sepulchre instead of the ruins of the Martyrium Church. It is located
between the Coptic Patriarchate premises and the Church of the Holy
(on the east side). It expands over 1800sq.m. and consists of a courtyard with
the dome of St Helena’s Chapel in the middle. There are two ancient Coptic
chapels on the south-western side of the Monastery – the Chapel of the
Archangel Michael and the Chapel of the Four Incorporeal Creatures. On the
eastern side of the courtyard, there are some rooms in which the Copts host
some Ethiopian monks, in addition the room of the Monastery’s Superior – who is
a Coptic monk.
Deir El Sultan is very important to the Copts, because it is their direct way to arrive from St Anthony’s Monastery
(where the Patriarchate is located) to the Holy Sepulchre, and throughout their
history in Jerusalem, the Copts have taken good care of this Monastery. Deir El
Sultan stayed under Coptic control until the 17th century.
In the 17th century, the
Ethiopians couldn’t pay the taxes of their properties in Jerusalem, and lost
them all to the Greek Orthodox and the Armenians. As the Ethiopians lost their
properties, they came to the Coptic Metropolitan who accommodated them in Deir
El Sultan, replacing the poor Coptic families. They then lived in Deir El
Sultan as temporary guests until 1820, when the restoration of the Monastery
required them to leave the rooms. This caused some sensitivity to the
Ethiopians, who began to research how they could control the Monastery.
In November 1850, the Ethiopians stole the Monastery keys.
But in 1851, the Ottoman ruler ratified that the Monastery is for the Copts.
They confirmed this in the year 1863, when the Ethiopians tried to recapture
the Monastery. In November 1863, an order was issued by the Ottoman Ministry of
Foreign Affairs (assigned by the Grand Vizier) to the Governor of Jerusalem.
The order was to renew the keys of both Chapels of the Archangel Michael and
the Four Incorporeal Creatures, as well as the Passage Way, and to give them
back to the Copts, which definitely assures that the right of property is for
In 1895, the
Ethiopians tried to capture the Monastery again, helped by Russia, which had an
influence on the Ottoman Empire. The Ethiopians misled the Russians into
thinking that they will be united with their church, but this did not work.
Yet, the Ethiopians did not back down. They tried to recapture the
Monastery in 1906, claiming that they wanted to restore it. So the Copts then
restored and repaired the Monastery, (in accordance with the
formal authorities) in the years 1910 and 1919, which again proves that the
Monastery belongs to the Copts.
The Ethiopians then used the death of the Coptic Archbishop,
as well as the confused political environment between Egypt and Jordan at that
time, to ask permission from the Jordanian governor of Jerusalem to admit their
property of the Monastery in February 1959. As a result, on February 22nd
1961, the Jordanian Ministerial Cabinet issued a decision that required giving
Deir El Sultan to the Ethiopians. This decision led the Coptic Archbishop in
Jerusalem to meet with King Hussein of Jordan on March 4th 1961,
where he clarified to His Majesty the documents and proof of the Copts property
to the Monastery, and that the keys have been in the hands of the Copts
throughout hundreds of years, and that it is not for the Ethiopians except the
right to be hosted. The Head of the Coptic Church in Egypt (the Pope) also
negotiated with the Ethiopians, but failed to reach an agreement with them, so
the Coptic Pope had to send a senior delegation to negotiate with the Jordanian
officials. This continuous Coptic contact with the Jordanians led the Jordanian
Cabinet to issue a decision on April 1st 1961, to freeze its first
decision, and to deliver the keys to the hands of the Copts as before, as well
as to form a ministerial committee to study the issue of the conflict. The
Jordanian Government issued an order to cancel the false decision taken on
February 22nd 1961, and confirmed that the keys should stay in the
hands of the Copts in fulfilment of the Status Quo (to which Deir El Sultan is
one of the Holy Places that are subject to).
between Israel and Egypt increased after the Six Day War in 1967. From one
side, the Israeli capture of Jerusalem and from the other side was the increase
of shared interests between Israel and Ethiopia. From a third
side, there occurred circumstances which made the Israeli government submit the
keys of the two Coptic chapels and the Passageway to the Ethiopians, while the
Copts were celebrating Easter Eve on April 25th 1970 inside the
Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Immediately, the Coptic Archbishop made a petition to the
Israeli High Court of Justice which issued a decision on March 16th
1971, that ordered the giving back of the keys of the two Chapels and Passageway
to the hands of the Copts, but the Israeli Government until now has not
fulfilled the decisions of the Israeli High Court of Justice.
On 28 March 1971, the Israeli government
issued an Interim Order under which the keys of the Passage of Deir El Sultan:
with the Ethiopian community, and the right of free access for members of the
Coptic Community is preserved”.
But the Ethiopians didn’t respect the
opening and closing times of the Passageway. They also removed Coptic and
Arabic inscriptions and icons from the Iconostasis of the two chapels; and made
many changes in the churches and in their rooms in Deir El Sultan, against the
They used the
two chapels for prayers and collecting money from pilgrims passing through
despite that these are places of conflict, and not for them.
Many times they
violated the Status Quo in Deir El Sultan, and the Copts complained to the
Ministry of Religious Affairs, but nobody heard them.
The Copts still only have a Coptic
Priest in the room of the Superior of the Monastery. They also still have the
keys of the north-west main gate of Deir El Sultan.
The Copts all
over the world have the feeling that the political issues are more dominant
As related by His Eminence Metropolitan Dr. Anba Abraham. All rights reserved. © 2011