On the West Bank of the Nile at Luxor, originally named Thebes, there stands a great temple at Deir al-Bahari. It is the mortuary temple of the only female pharaoh of ancient Egypt, Queen Hatshepsut who reigned for 22 years during the golden age of Egypt, the 18th Dynasty. During this dynasty Egypt was rebuilt and the religion and culture achieved its zenith.
On my first tour of Egypt, Hatshepsut’s temple was the first of ten temples we visited. The architecture of the temple has very different from any other in Egypt. It is built into a mountain with long and low inclining stairs leading to the different levels. At the very top is the Holy of Holies is set directly in the mountain. The entire temple and mountain resonate together like a tuning fork.
Having never visited an Egyptian temple before I slipped into full tourist mode to check out all the hieroglyphs and statues, taking pictures of everything. I went to see the Hathor chapel to the left and then the Chapel of Anubis to the right where there was still a lot of the original paint on the carvings giving me a glimpse of their former glory.
I went to walk up the stairs to the next level and I just stopped. I had seen stairs like this before, at Sacre Coeur in Paris and St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, where pilgrims seeking healing and penance would crawl up the stairs to the cathedral. It was all I could do to not drop to my knees, but not wanting to make a fool of myself or excite the tourist police, I walked slowly and deliberately up the middle of the stairs, and then up the last flight of stairs to the Sanctuary of the Sun and Holy of Holies. I was speechless; there were no words to describe this place. My friend Ron came up beside me and touched me on the back, I don’t know what he opened in me but my usually controlled façade cracked wide open. I could not stop sobbing. I never sob. I have no idea why I was sobbing. Something deep opened up at that holy site.
On the trips I took to Egypt most women in the group would have a similar emotional reaction to a temple. One friend came up to me in Isis’ temple and said “why am I crying”. She had no idea what brought on such powerful emotions. My roommate one year was over powered by the temple at Abydos. Something in those places releases long dormant memories and emotions for those who want to remember.
Hatshepsut’s temple will always be extra special to me because of the intense first visit. It was like the doors of my being were thrown wide open to remember what was lost when Egypt faded into time. Last year I discovered that the University of Tennessee’s McClung Museum has a piece from Hatshepsut’s temple, a connection across time and land, a beautifully decorated coffin of a priestess that was discovered on the temple grounds. This priestess was a chantress; she sang praises to the gods. Now her sarcophagus is in a foreign land, but somehow I feel she was sent here to provide a connection to Egypt to this place on earth to hold the energy of what we all need to remember.