Fit for a pharaoh: Egyptian Festival returns to Nashua

NASHUA – Fragrances of falafel and kabobs wafted through the air of the French Hill neighborhood Saturday with the return of the Egyptian Festival.

Building off last year’s success, the St. Mary and Archangel Michael Coptic Orthodox Church hosted its second Egyptian Festival Friday and Saturday, drawing many out to taste different dishes and tour the church, which the festival is raising money to rehabilitate. However, if folks were unable to attend the festival on the first two days, there will be a final opportunity Sunday with the last day of the festival running from noon to 6 p.m.

“This year, just because of the good feedback we had last year, we increased a little bit,” Father Kyrillos Gobran said. “So far, it’s going awesome. People are enjoying their time, we are enjoying to see everybody, they are enjoying the tour, they are enjoying the food and we are happy that they are happy.”

Funds raised during the festival will be directed toward rehabilitating the church, which has proudly stood tall at 185 feet on the French Hill of Nashua for more than a century. However, after sitting empty for 15 years, the church began deteriorating, and the Coptic Orthodox Christians are now working to save this iconic structure. In October 2016, the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance named the church to its “Seven to Save” list, which recognizes its cultural, historical and architectural significance, which dates back to 1896. In the late part of the 19th century, the Rev. Henri Athanasius Lessard was assigned to establish a new Roman Catholic parish for the French Canadian population in the French village section of Nashua. On July 19, 1896, the cornerstone of St. Francis Xavier Church was laid high on the hill of Chandler Street, where it still towers toward the sky today, offering breathtaking views from multiple angles across the city. French Canadians living in the area in the early 1900s brought blue marble down from Vermont to use in constructing the church. The blue marble and copper domes cost twice as much as other churches, which makes this Norman basilica-styled Cathedral architecturally unique not just to New Hampshire, but the New England area as a whole. Designed by architect Timothy O’Connell, the church went on to host religious services for more than a century. In 2003, the Diocese of Manchester close the parish, citing few parishoners, a lack of clergy and low tithing.

Gobran said in 2017 the Land Community Heritage and Investment Program provided them with a grant for $390,000 over two years to be spent on renovations.

“The grant has to be matched dollar for dollar, and we’re working on trying to match that,” Gobran said.

He said they are thinking the total cost for repairs will fall somewhere in the range of $4 million to $5 million, which is why this festival aims at securing additional funds.

“I’m expecting more people to come this year and, we have prepared for that,” Gobran said.

Adam Urquhart can be reached at 594-1206 or aurquhart@nashuatelegraph.com.

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