Ruth writes: Are you hoping to see inside that gigantic new church on the north side of Steeles near Ferrier during Doors Open this year? Sorry but you will probably be disappointed. Regular church services on Saturdays and Sundays mean it will not be open to visitors that weekend.
The good news is that it’s open now. You can just telephone receptionist Kamal Monday through Friday between 10am and 4pm and make a date for a tour with her. The number is 416-800-5500 Extension 211 or 0. If you want a detailed cultural tour, you can arrange one with St. Mark’s Coptic Museum’s Volunteer Curator, Helene Moussa at email@example.com.
Recently, Dr. Moussa showed us around. She explained that the exterior was built with bricks the colour of desert sand. All Coptic churches face east like this one because the Bible says the second coming of Christ will be from the east. Everything in the architecture and design of a Coptic church has a symbolic and spiritual meaning… the domes, the location of the baptismal room, the shape of the nave and floor design, the icons and wall paintings, the carvings on the pews and the iconostasis, etc.
I was especially impressed by the palatial interior. The height from the floor of the nave to the top of the dome is 29.7 meters. Is there any other room or hall in Toronto this high? Its granite floors have mirror-like finishes. The identical wooden pews have been beautifully carved with crosses and grape vines in Egypt. They seat a total of 1800.
The woods used are oak, walnut and maple. The iconostasis is constructed entirely in pine.
The icons on the iconostasis and the papal throne are now complete. The wall paintings behind the three altars or in the niches are still works in progress. If you are fortunate, you might see the sanctuary which is normally closed to view except during the services.
“This is the Gate of the Lord” is carved in wood at the entrance to the sanctuary. It is in English. “We are in Canada”, said Dr. Moussa. The Sunday Divine Liturgy is in English with parts in Coptic. The whole “service” can be followed on monitors in English, Coptic and Arabic.
The papal throne is used only by the Church’s Patriarch or Pope when he visits. Lions on either side are symbolic of St. Mark, the apostle of Jesus Christ.
Poignant is a photograph of an icon in the Coptic style of the 20 Egyptian Coptic migrant workers and one Ghanaian in Libya who were beheaded February this year by the Islamic State. The church considers them martyrs and they will be commemorated every 15th day of February in the Church calendar.
Samira Lamei, an iconographer from Egypt, painted the icons on the iconostasis in Egypt and the wall paintings in the niches. She returned to Egypt before Christmas. She is expected to return soon to complete the wall paintings so you might see her working. She is a student of distinguished iconographers Dr Bedour Latif and Dr. Youssef Nassif. She painted the icons in several churches in Egypt.
The white marble baptismal fonts, one for adults, the other for children, are finished. They were designed by the Egyptian architect Morad Bebawi, cut and hand carved by workers at St. Mina Monastery, Maryut, Egypt. The inscription is also in English.
The cathedral was consecrated and blessed by his Holiness Pope Tawadros II last September 7. Upon hearing about St. Mark’s Coptic Museum, the Pope donated two ecclesiastical vestments of previous Pope Shenouda III. You should be able to see these too. They are in a separate room in the Cathedral.
The cathedral was built in Toronto because we have the largest concentration of Coptic Christians in Canada. About 20,000 live in the GTA and neighbouring towns. It was also built here because St. Mark’s Church a couple blocks away, was the first Coptic Church in North America. It was established in 1964. That church building was completed in 1977.
The cathedral is on 12.6 acres of land. The foot print of the cathedral is about one acre. To be built when funds are available will be the Pope’s residence from which the Pope’s representative will oversee the Archdiocese of North America. Next to come will be a seniors’ residence and the museum. The museum is currently housed in St. Mark’s Church at 41 Glendinning Ave.
The Coptic Church was founded by the apostle St. Mark over two thousand years ago in Egypt. Many Coptic Christians started arriving in Canada in the 1960s.
The address is: Holy Virgin Mary and St. Mark Cathedral, Coptic-Canadian Village, 455 Ferrier Street, Markham. It is between Warden and Victoria Park. Worth a visit, it is a very impressive addition indeed to the religious architecture our immigrants have brought us.