It's one of the oldest forms of Christianity, whose followers can trace their routes back to the pharaohs - and now the Coptic faith is set to find a home in the tiny Yorkshire village of Arthington.

It's a long way from the Egyptian desert or the banks of the Nile, but Arthington is set to play its own part in the Coptic faith and the new congregation is being welcomed to the village as they prepare to take over the historic and formerly Anglican St Peter's.

St Peter's, a grade 2 listed building, had been at the heart of the traditional rural community since it was built in 1864.

But with falling numbers and increasing maintenance costs the building had become an expensive burden, and it has been made redundant by the Church of England.

And for Yorkshire's Coptics it could almost be the answer to their prayers.

The small group of worshippers, from the Leeds, Harrogate and York areas have been looking for a church of their own for some time And they have been in the entirely unsatisfactory situation of having to change their day of worship from the usual Sunday to a Saturday in order to borrow' other churches.

A representative of the Coptic church, Magdy Attia, who has met with villagers to answer their questions explained that because they had no church of their own they had been meeting to pray on Saturdays rather than on Sunday, alternating between St James Chapel and a church in York.

They are now in the process of acquiring St Peter's and have submitted a planned package of improvements for approval.

And the prospective Arthington congregation have been keen to allay any potential concerns about their intentions for the building.

In a country where it is probably fair to say the Coptic faith is not too well known, it would probably be easy for misunderstandings to occur.

Mention religions of Egypt and images of Islam and the pagan gods of the pharaohs spring to mind.

But although the Coptics are descended from the ancient Egyptians - the word Copt is derived from gypt' which stems from the Greek word Aigyptos meaning Egyptian' - they have had a long tradition of Christianity stretching back almost 2,000 years.

Egypt has strong biblical ties - the Holy Family found sanctuary there when they fled from danger.

And the biblical references to Egypt stretched back much further than that. Abraham and Jeremiah both visited Egypt, Jospeh became Pharaoh's right hand man. According to the bible Jacob and his 12 sons dwelt in Egypt where they became a nation.

The book of Isaiah predicted that there would be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land.

And the Coptic church believes that prophecy was fulfilled when St Mark, who wrote one of the four gospels, established the orthodox church in Egypt in the first century AD.

His preaching against the local pagan gods led to his martyrdom but Christianity thrived in Egypt and by the end of the second century it was well established.

But life for the Christians could be hazardous, and the church suffered waves of persecution from the Romans, which were said to have led to the martyrdom of around 800,000 men, women and children.

The Coptic church is known by some historians as the Church of the Martyrs. And the Coptic calendar starts from the year of the martyrs' - 248AD when the ruthlessly oppressive Emperor Diocletian ascended to the throne.

The Coptic church, which is said to be similar to Greek Orthodox, describes itself as one of the most ancient churches of the world which had carefully preserved the orthodox Christian faith in its earliest and purest form.

Complicated theological arguments in the fifth century led to a schism leaving the Coptic church isolated from the rest of the Christian world until the 20th century.

Now the arguments which led to the split are generally seen as a misunderstanding caused by Semantics, and the Coptic church is working towards unity.

Today, the Coptic Orthodox Church is the largest in the Middle East, according to its official website - with about ten million faithful in Egypt.

The church, which is headed by Pope Shenouda 3, was the founder of the Middle East Council of Churches, and is an active member of the World Council of Churches and the All Africa Conference of Churches.

There are now many Coptic churches in Africa, the United States, Canada and Europe and a theological college has recently opened in Stevenage.

But they are not out to convert anyone in Arthington, or to disturb their new neighbours, according to Mr Attia, who stressed that although St Peter's was built for 500 people they were expecting only ten to 12 families to use it each week.

He said there were around 18 to 20 churches across the whole of the UK.

"Most of the Coptics around are descended from immigrants or from people who came a long time ago," he said.

He said while other members of the congregations may have come to England recently or were visiting the country, most of the families were permanent UK residents.

And although Arthington people are objecting to plans to build a priest's house next to the church they are generally more than happy to welcome their new neighbours.

Mr Attia said: "We had very supportive comments from people who attended the meeting. They were very, very keen for us take over the church and for it to be used as a place of worship."