“Anyone familiar with contemporary Latin and Eastern Rite Catholic church buildings will recognize the basic design. The foundation marks for roof support columns in the main room easily identify it as the nave of a church. Probably, the roof was a thatch of palm branches supported by risers and crossbeams about a foot above the walls for sunlight and ventilation. The congregation would have entered through the main doorway at the west side of the nave and assembled, women standing to the right and men to the left, facing east toward the sanctuary (the middle of the three smaller chambers”) where the altar would have been.

“At the doorways to the sacristy, sanctuary, chapel, and the main entrance, stone crosses were attached to the wall. These four crosses, in place during the early excavation, disappeared in late 1986 or early 1987. Over the years since the discovery, the desert has erased even the marks left when the crosses were removed.”

The Saudi government has fenced off the site with barbed wire, saying it is protecting the archeological site.

And what about the reports that the Saudis are going to allow a church to be built?

“The Coptic Orthodox Church has denied reports of a meeting between Pope Tawadros II and Saudi Arabian officials to open the first church in the country,” reports the website Christian Today. “The Coptic Orthodox Church has issued a statement refuting reports that the Coptic Pope has met Saudi Arabian officials over the creation of the first church in the country.

“The MidEast Christian News agency reported that a meeting had taken place between Pope Tawadros II and Saudi Ambassador Ahmed Kattan about the possibility of setting up a church.

“However the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK has released a statement saying that the story is a case of “misreporting”.

It confirmed that a meeting did take place between the two leaders but that it related to a pastoral visit to the country by a bishop in the Church.

Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria (Wikimedia photo)

Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria (Wikimedia photo)

"This was however a strictly cordial visit by His Holiness Pope Tawadros to the Saudi ambassador to express his thanks for the assistance provided in facilitating the pastoral visit of a Coptic Orthodox bishop to Coptic Christians in Saudi Arabia," the statement said.

Meanwhile, although no churches are allowed in the country, Saudi Arabia does allows Christians to enter the country as foreign workers for temporary work, but does not allow them to practice their faith openly. During the Kuwaiti war, American troops were cautioned not to carry Bibles in public. Chaplains were required to remove the crosses from their lapels.

“Because of such prohibitions, Christians generally only worship in secret within private homes. The Saudi Arabian government’s Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice – the religious police – energetically prohibit any displays of crosses or other non-Islamic religious symbols.

Conversion of a Muslim to another religion is punishable by death.

Despite this, the migrant community of believers is growing and

converts are responding to Christian TV programs, reports Open Doors. Another phenomenon is widely reported -- of Muslims converting to Christianity after experiencing visions in which they said Jesus appeared to them.

"Christians risk further persecution and oppression in the future due to the rising number of converts and their boldness in sharing their faith," reports Open Doors. "In July 2012 the media reported the story of a young Saudi woman who converted to Christianity after her Lebanese employer shared the gospel with her. With his and a Saudi colleague's aid, she fled abroad. The lady's family filed charges against the employer. According to the Saudi Gazette, he was detained and taken to court. A month later, it was reported that the Saudi authorities had started to block several Christian websites."

And for the time being, apparently there will be no churches built, Coptic or otherwise.

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