Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Rotunda area, the Edicule holds the empty tomb of Jesus. On the opposite side of the entrance to the empty tomb, by way of another entrance, visitors can see the Coptic Chapel. The Coptic Orthodox Church is one of the minor church communities that have access to use certain areas within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
“Coptic” means “Egyptian” so Christians that have a tie to Egypt or to the church that originated in Alexandria, Egypt would refer to themselves as Coptic Christians. The Coptic Chapel is the part of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where the Coptic monks can perform their religious rites and ceremonies.
The Coptic Chapel is a tiny chapel that is connected to the far side of the Edicule. The structure itself has wrought iron walls that connect marble columns. The walls have curtains or tapestry that partition off the chapel. Just inside the entrance on the right is a receptacle to hold the lit candles used in worship. The chapel can hold no more than two or three people. The altar stands on the far wall across from the entrance. Above the altar hangs a picture of Mary holding the baby Jesus. The other walls are lined with different murals depicting events in Jesus’ life. Under the altar, an exposed piece of stone is present. This stone is part of the rock that encased the tomb where Jesus was buried and from which He walked after His resurrection. Interestingly, since the actual stone in the tomb is covered by marble, this exposed stone is the part of the tomb that can actually be touched.
As a church, the Coptic Orthodox Church started in the city of Alexandria, Egypt. The Coptic Church proclaim that John Mark, who authored the Gospel of Mark and traveled with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, founded the church and served as the first Coptic bishop between AD 42 – 62. During the Apostolic period, the church in the city of Alexandria was a successful, growing, faithful church to the cause of Christ.
Yet, the Coptic Church was involved in the first major split of Christendom, even before there was the Roman Catholic Church or the eastern and western Christianity split. At the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451, the church of Alexandria split from the rest of the church over the issue of whether Jesus was born with two natures or came from two natures. Since they could not come to an agreement, the church split with the Coptic Church being that part of the church that grew from the Egyptian line of Christians.
Under the rule of the Roman Empire, the Coptic Christians faced severe persecution and death because they worshiped Christ alone and would not worship the Roman emperors. But by AD 641, Egypt was liberated from the Roman Empire by the Arab conquest. That which started as newfound freedom for the Coptic Christians was soon replaced with the trials of being ruled by Muslims. Over time and through the centuries, most Coptic Christians converted to Islam and the Christian presence in Egypt has dwindled greatly. Worldwide, the Coptic Church has between 10 million and 60 million members. Their beliefs are similar to Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theology.