Moved by the spirit of prophecy, Hosea foresaw the flight from Bethlehem where there was no safe place forth Christ Child to lay his head, and the eventual return of the holy refugees from Their sanctuary in Egypt, where Jesus had found a place in the hearts of the Gentiles, when he uttered God’s words: “Out of Egypt have I called My SOH “.
(Hosea 11: 1) In the Biblical Book of Isaiah, the prophet provides us with a divinely inspired prediction of the effect the holy infant was to have on Egypt and the Egyptians: “Behold, the Lord rides on a swift cloud, and will come into Egypt, and the idols of Egypt will totter at His Presence, and the heart of Egypt will melt in the midst of it”. (Isaiah 19: 1)
The authority of Old Testament prophecy, which portended the crumbling of idols wherever Jesus went, further foreshadowed the singular blessing to be bestowed upon Egypt, for its having been chosen as the Holy Family’s haven, and upon its people for having been the first to experience the Christ’s miraculous influence.
God’s message, also delivered through the prophetic utterance of Isaiah, ”Blessed be Egypt, My People ,’ (Isaiah 1 9: 25 ), was an anticipation of the coming of St. Mark to our country, where the Gospel he preached took firm root in the first decades of Christianity. For Isaiah goes on to prophecy: “in that day there Will be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt; and a pillar to the Lord, at its border. And it will be for a .sign and for a witness to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt”. (Isaiah 19: 19 & 20).
According to the traditions of the Coptic Church, ‘the altar’ mentioned is that of the Church of Virgin Mary in Al-Muharraq Monastery, a site where the Holy Family settled for a period of more than six months; and the altar-stone was the ‘bed’ upon
which the Infant Savior lay. Al Muharraq Monastery is located, literally, “in the midst of the land of Egypt”….standing at its exact geographical center. As for the “pillar at its borders…. which will be for a sign and for a witness…” surely there can be no more demonstrable, concrete proof of the fulfillment of the prophecy than that the Patriarchal See of the Apostolic Church in Egypt,
The advent of the Holy Family
Established by St. Mark himself, is situated in Alexandria, on Egypt’s northern borders. But the prophecy, knitting a perfect pattern of things to come, does not stop there. It continues, “Then the Lord will be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day and will make sacrifice and offering”. (Isaiah 19: 21). As Christianity in Egypt spread, churches were built throughout the length and breadth of the land, and the sites chosen were, primarily, those which, had been visited and blessed by the Holy Family’s sojourns. The New Testament records the fulfillment of these Old Testament prophecies as they unfold in their historical sequence.
Such an arduous journey it was, fraught with hazard every step of the way. In those far-off days, there were three routes which could be followed by travelers traversing Sinai from Palestine to Egypt, a crossing which was usually undertaken in groups, for without the protection of well-organized caravans, the ever-present dangers – even along these known and trodden paths-were ominously forbidding.
But, in their escape from the infanticidal fury of King Herod, the Holy Family – understandably – had to avoid the beaten tracks altogether, and to pursue unknown paths, guided by God and His Angel.
They picked their way, day after day, through hidden valleys and across uncharted plateaus in the (then) rugged wastelands of Sinai, enduring the scorching heat of the sun by day and the bitter cold of the desert nights, preserved from the threat of wild beasts and savage tribesmen, their daily sustenance miraculously provided, the all-too-human fears of the young Mother for her Infant allayed by the faith that infused her with His birth.
And so they arrived, at last, safely, for God had pre-ordained that Egypt should be the refuge for the One who was to bring the message of peace and love to mankind.
The tortuous trails they followed in their passage across Sinai, and their subsequent travels within Egypt, are chronicled by Pope Theophilus, 23rd Patriarch of Alexandria (384 – 412 AD).
He testifies, in his celebrated annals, that on the eve of the 6th of Hathor (the Coptic month corresponding roughly with November), after long prayer, the Holy Virgin revealed herself to him and, after relating the details of the Holy Family’s journey to, in, and from Egypt, bade him record what he had seen and heard.
It is a source which no Christian believer would question.
The Holy Family at el-Zaranik &Farma
According to the sources of the Coptic Church, chief among which is the vision documented by Pope Theophilus,and recorded in the Coptic Senexarium the Holy Family proceeded from Bethlehem to Gaza, and thence to El-Zaraniq (also known as Floussiat), some37 kms west of El-Arish; then they threaded their way along northern Sinai until they reached Farama (ancient Pelusium) mid-way between El-Arish and present-day Port Said. It Sinai their last stop in Sinai ; and with the next leg of their journey they put the perils of the wilderness behind them
The Holy Family at Basta Town
Tel Basta -or Basta- which they now enter, is a short distance from Zagazig the main town in the Sharqiah Governorate about 100 Kms north-east of Cairo. Here, Jesus Caused a water spring o well up from the ground and his presence caused the idols
The Holy Family at the town of Mostorod
Interiors of the Crypt
Steps of the Crypt – Virgin Mary Church -Mostorod
In due course, they reached Mostorod (which came to be called, in those days, ‘AlMahamma’) only about 10 kms away from Cairo. ‘Al-Mahamma’ means ‘the Bathing Place’, a name given to the town because the Virgin Mary bathed the Christ Child and washed his clothes.
It is worthy of note that, eventually, on their way back to Palestine, the Holy Family stopped once more at Mostorod and, this time, caused a spring to gush from the earth which still flows forth to the present day
The Holy Family at the town of Belbeis
Icons at Virgin Mary Church – Belbeis
From Mostorod, the Holy Family made their way north-eastwards to Belbeis (ancient Philippos), back in Sharqiah Governorate,and at a distance of about 55 kms from Cairo.
They rested there in the shade of a tree which came to be called, ‘The Virgin Mary’s Tree
The Holy Family at Meniet Samonoud
Al – Shaheed (Martyr) Abanob Church
Interiors of Martyr Abanob Church Samanoud -Gharbeiah
There is in Samannoud,to this day, a large granite trough which, according to local belief, was used by the Virgin for kneading dough, and a water-well which the Christ Child Himself hallowed.
Again towards the north-west, the Holy Family now travelled until they reached the city of Sakha, in the lake-district of Burullus, in the present-day Governorate of Kafr El-Shei
The Holy family at Sakha Town
Christ’s footprint on a stone Virgin Mary Church – Sakha – Kafr El Sheikh
The Coptic name of the town, ‘Pekha -Issous’, (vernacularized to Lysous) means, ‘the foot of Jesus’; for the Holy Child’s foot-print was marked, here, in bas-relief on a rock. The rock was preserved, but hidden for centuries for fear of robbery, and only unearthed again 13 years ago
The natural course of the Holy family’s journey from Samannoud to Sakha would have taken them through many of the towns and cities now lying in both Governorates of Gharbia and Kafr El-Sheikh and, according to some folk traditions, through the Belqas wastelands as well
The Holy Family at Wadi el-Natroun
Ancient Refectory Table
Their trail from Sakha, is recorded in the documentation of Pope Theophilus’s vision, and attested to by Coptic practice in the Christian era For it was to Wadi el Natroun (Natroun Valley) that they now came, after crossing the Rosetta branch of the Nile to the western Delta, and heading south into Wadi el-Natroun (then called Al Asqeet in the Western Desert of Egypt
In the earliest decades of Christianity, the desert expanses of Wadi el-Natroun became the site of anchoretic settlement and, later, of many monasteries, in spiritual commemoration of the Holy Family’s passage through the Valley.
Interiors of the Monastery Chapel
The Prophecies gate
At the time of the Holy Family’s arrival there, Ain Shams was home to a large Jewish community, who had erected a temple – the Synagogue of Unias, – for their worship. In Matareyah, a tree stil1 stands to this day, still regularly visited, called ‘Mary’s Tree”, for the Family is believed to have rested in its shade. Here, too, the Infant Jesus caused water to flow from a spring, from which .
He drank and blessed, and in which the Virgin washed His clothes. She poured the washing water on to the ground, and from that spot, the fragrant balsam plant blossomed: besides the healing and pain-soothing properties of this balm, its essence is used in the preparation of the scents and perfumes of which the holy Chrism is composed
Eventually, they left the desert behind them and made their way southwards, crossing the Nile to its eastern bank,and heading for Matariyah and Ain Shams ancient Heliopolis, the site of the oldest university’ in history called since earliest Pharaonic times, ‘On’
Both these adjacent districts are outlying suburbs of present day Cairo, only 10 kms or so from the city center. At the time of the Holy Family’s arrival there, Ain Shams was home to a large Jewish community, who had erected a temple – the Synagogue of Unias, – for their worship. In Matareyah, a tree stil1 stands to this day, still regularly visited, called ‘Mary’s Tree”, for the Family is believed to have rested in its shade. Here, too, the Infant Jesus caused water to flow from a spring, from which . He drank and blessed, and in which the Virgin washed His clothes. She poured the washing water on to the ground, and from that spot, the fragrant balsam plant blossomed: besides the healing and pain-soothing properties of this balm, its essence is used in the preparation of the scents and perfumes of which the holy Chrism is composed
The Holy Family within the area of old Cairo
In Central Cairo
The old Family within the area of old Cairo
Interiors of the Church of St. Barbara – Old Cairo
The area now called Old Cairo, known as Misr EI Kadhna, is among the most important locations visited by the Holy Family where the spiritual impact of their presence is most felt still; though their stay was brief, for the Governor of what was then Fustat – enraged by the tumbling down of idols at Jesus’s approach – sought to kill the Child
But they took shelter from his wrath in a cave above which, in the later years, the Church of Abu Serga (St Sergius) was built. This, and the whole area of the Fort of Babylon, is a destination of pilgrimage not only for the Egyptians but for Christians from around the world. An air of piety and devotion pervades the whole district
Here, too, it is useful to list the sites which visitors to the Fortress of Babylon section of Old Cairo take in
– Al-Muallaqa (Hanging Church),dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Patriarchal See of the Coptic Church in the early centuries
The Convent of St George
The Coptic Museum and the raniparts of the Fortress of Babylon
:The Fustat section of Old Cairo, which lies west of the Mosque of Amr Ibn’l Aas, includes
The Church of St. Mercurios Abu Sefein ( he of the two Swords
THE HOLY FAMILY AT MAADY
Virgen Mary Church – Maadi
After their short, but all-too-felt, stay in Old Cairo, the Holy Family moved in a southerly direction, reaching the modern Cairo suburb of Maadi which, in earliest Pharaonic times was an outlying district of Memphis, the capital of Egypt then; and, at Maudi, they boarded
a sailing-boat which carried them up the Nile towards southern Egypt. The historic church built upon the spot from which they embarked, also dedicated to the Virgin, is further identified by the denominative, ‘Al-Adaweya’, the Virgin’s Church ‘of the Fen y’
(In fact, the name of that now modem suburb, Maadi, derives from the Arabic word which means ‘the Crossing Point’)
The stone steps leading down to the River’s bank, and believed to have been used by the Holy Family, are accessible to pilgrims through the Church courtyard
An event of miraculous import occurred on Friday the 3rd of the Coptic month of Baramhat – the 12th of March-1976 A.D A Holy Bible of unknown provenance was carried by the lapping ripples of the Nile to the bank below the Church
“It was open to the page of Isaiah 19:25 the page declaring, “Blessed be Egypt My People
THE HOLY FAMILY AT AL GARNOUS
MONASTERY – MAGHAGHA
Interiors of Virgen Mary Church – Al Garnous Monastery – Maghagha
The sail-boat docked at the village of Deir Al- Garnous (the later site of the Monastery of Arganos) 10 kms west of Ashnein el Nassara (a small village near the town of Maghagha)
Outside the western wall of the Church of the Virgin there a deep well is believed to have provided the Holy Family with the water they needed
THE HOLY FAMILY AT AL- BAHNASSA
El – Barsha Monastery Church
They went on from there to a spot later named Abai Issous, “the Home of Jesus”, the site of present-day Sandafa village, east of Al-Bahnassa which, itself; stands some 17 kms west of the town of Beni Mazar
THE HOLY FAMILY AT GABAL AL TAIR – SAMALOUT
On towards the south they went from Bahnassa to Samalout and crossed the Nile again from that town to the spot on the east bank of the River where the Monastery of the Virgin now stands upon Gabal El-Tair (‘Bird Mountain’) east of Samalout, 2Kms south of Meadoyat Beni Khaled.
It is known by this name (Gabal El-Tair) because thousands of birds gather there. The Holy Family rested in the cave which is now located inside the ancient church there. Gabal El-Tair is also called Gabal El-Kaf (‘Palm (Mountain’
Coptic tradition maintains that, as the Holy Family rested in the shade of the Mountain, Jesus stretched His little hand to hold back a rock which was about to detach itself from the mountain-side and fall upon them. The imprint of His palm is still visible
THE WORSHIPPER AT GABAL EL-TAIR
When they resumed their travels, the Holy Family passed a laurel tree a stone’s throw south of Gabal El-Tair, along the pathway flanking the Nile and leading from the Mountain to Nazlet Ebeid and the New Minia Bridge of today. It is claimed that this tree bowed for worship the Lord Christ – glory be to Him as he was passing
The configuration of the Tree is, indeed,unique: all its branches incline downwards, trailing on the ground, then turn upwards again, covered in a cloak of green leaves. They call the tree Al Abed-“The Worshipper”
THE HOLY FAMILY CROSSES
THE RIVER NILE FROM
THE EASTERN TO WESTERN BANK
The Crypt of Virgen Mary Church – Gabal El Tair
THE HOLY FAMILY AT AL ASHMOUNEIN TOWN – MALAWY
Once more crossing the Nile, back to its west bank, the Holy Family travelled southward to the town of Al-Ashmounein or Hermopolis Magna- but it seems that they did not tarry long there.
Ruins of Roman Monuments – AL Ashmounein
THE HOLY FAMILY AT DAIROUT AL-SHARIF
Leaving behind them the rubble of fallen idols, they continued still in a southerly direction, for another 20 kms or so to Dairout Al-Sharif (which, like Al-A’shmonein, had an alternative Greek name: Philes);
THE HOLY FAMILY AT QUSSUAM
and thence to Qussuam (or Qost Qoussia) Here, too, the recorded events testify that the townsfolk were infuriated when the stone statue of their local deity cracked and fell, and evicted the Holy Family from the town. A historically recorded incident dating to that period refers to the devastation of Qussqatn, and Coptic tradition asserts that the min that he fell the town was the consequence of its violent rejection of the gentle visitors.
THE HOLY FAMILY AT MEIRA
We have an entirely different story in the warm welcome with which the holy refugees were met at their next stop at Meir (or Meira) only 7 kms west of Qoussia . Here, they found only consideration and hospitality wherever they went, for which treatment the town and its people were signally blessed.
THE HOLY FAMILY AT MOUNT QUSSQAM
The Monastery of Al Muharraq
Now it was time for the Holy Family to set out for what is, arguably, the most meaningful destination of all in the land of Egypt,the Place wherethere would be “an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt”. Gabal (Mount) Qussqarn, which takes its name from the town nearby that was laid waste is 327 kms south of Cairo. and stands in the Governorate of Assuit. The Monastery of Al Muharraq nestles against the western footlhills of the Mounlain. It was built around the area where the Holy Family remained just over six months Their time as spent mainly in cave which became in the Coptic era the alt r of the Church of Virgin Mary built at the western d of the Monastery compound The altar-stone was the resting place of the Child Jesus during the months He dwelt there.
The whole area-the Monastery and its surroundings – is redolent of the Coptic Christian ethos So hallowed are its intimations that the Copts of Egypt named it the Second Bethlehem.
And so they set forth on the return journey The route they took deviated slightly from the one by which they had come it took them to Mount Dronka, 8 Kms south-west of the city of Assiut, and their blessing of this location was commemorated h. the Christian era by the building of the mountain-top Monastery of Dronka
Eventually, they arrived at Old Cairo, then Matariyah, and on m Mahamma, retracing more or less their steps on their outward journey across Sinai to Palestine
Subsequent Biblical history says it all: at the end, they arrived home, Joseph’s old house. in the small town of Nazareth, in Galilee, in the land of Palestine, from where the message of Christ would, in the fullness of time, be heard
The whole journey, from the initial flight from Bethlehem to the return to Nazareth lasted over three years
They had covered something like 2000 kms; their means of transport a weak beast of burden and the occasional sail-boat on the Nile. But for much of the way, the delicate Mother and the rugged old Carpenter must
BLESSED BE EGYPT MY PEOPLE
On the 24th day of the Coptic month of Bashans , which corresponds to the 1st June , the Coptic celeprates the entry of the Lord Jesus Christ into the Land of Egypt
On that day , the churches throghtout the length and breadth of the land that gave the Holy Family shalter resound with the words of the Doxology
“Rejoice, Oh Egypt; Oh, people of Egypt and all ye Children of Egypt who live within its borders, rejoice and lift up your hearts, for the lover of all manked, He who has been before the beginning of ages, has come to you”
Source: Government of Egypt