It was named the Hanging Church because it was built on two ancient towers of the Roman Fort (Babylonian fortress), which was built by Emperor Trajan in the second century AD, and is considered one of the oldest surviving churches in Egypt.
The roof of the church is shaped like an inverted ship based on seven pillars, which represents the survivors with Noah during the Biblical flood.
The pulpit is based on 15 pillars. The first pillar in the front refers to Jesus, then the two pillars that are attached to the body of the pulpit represent the saints Mark and Luke, and the other 12 pillars represent the 12 disciples.
The church was built on the ruins of a place where the Holy Family (the Virgin Mary, Jesus as a child, and Joseph the carpenter) were hiding during the three years they spent in Egypt, fleeing from Herod, the ruler of Palestine who had ordered the killing of any baby boy out of fear of a prophecy.
It is also the location of a chapel where a nun lived, in one of the rocky canyons dug in the place.
This nun is Saint Demiana, who was the daughter of the governor of El-Brulus, El-Zaafaran, and Wadi Al-Saysaban districts in the northern part of the Nile Delta in Egypt.
Just like any father, he wanted her to marry a nobleman he knew, but she refused, as she wanted to live in celibacy and serve the Lord. Her father was pleased with her decision, so she asked him to build her an isolated house where she could live away, to pray and read holy scriptures.
Her father agreed to build her a palace , where she lived an austere life with her 40 unmarried friends.
Meanwhile, Diocletian, the pagan emperor, began to persecute and kill Christians as they refused to worship his idols. The emperor sent for Demiana’s father, and then ordered him to worship these idols. When he refused, the emperor threatened to harm his daughter, so Mark was coerced into worshipping the idols. Hearing that her father agreed to worship the emperor’s idols, Demiana reproached him.
Afterwards heheaded immediately to the emperor, and declared himself a Christian. The emperor tried to persuade him to reconsider his declaration but Mark refused. So, the emperor ordered the beheading of Mark by sword.
Then emperor Diocletian knew that it was Mark’s daughter, Saint Demiana, who convinced her father to once again worship Jesus. He sent her a prince with two hundred soldiers—in other narrations it was one hundred soldiers—to attack her palace. Diocletian ordered the prince to first try to convince Demiana to worship his idols by promising her riches and glory; if she refused, he would torture her. Otherwise, the prince would behead her and the other 40 virgins.
According to the Coptic Orthodox Church, the prince went to meet her and said, “I am an envoy sent by Emperor Diocletian. I command you by his orders to worship his gods so that he may grant you whatsoever you wish.”
The saint shouted in his face saying, “I am the maidservant of my Master and my Saviour Jesus Christ, and His Good Father, and the Holy Spirit, the Holy Trinity, Him I confess and upon Him I depend, and in His Name I die, and by Him I live forever”.
The prince got angry and ordered her to be placed in a squeezing press until her blood poured on the ground. When they put her in prison, the story goes that an angel appeared to her and when it touched her body with its wings, she was healed. The prince was furious and began to torture her by all means Finally, the prince ordered her to be beheaded, with all the other 40 virgins and they were all proclaimed as martyrs.
In the era of Constantine the Great, his mother, Helena visited the site of Saint Demiana’s monastery palace, where she had a church built over the tomb. The original church was destroyed, but another was rebuilt.