The Holy Family Visit
Our Lord Jesus Christ, glory be to Him was born in the town of Bethlehem, according to Micah’s prophecy, “But you, Bethlehem Ephratha, though are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.” (Micah 5:2) As soon as our Lord Jesus Christ was born, a star shone over the lands of the east, also known as the lands of Persia, in order to declare His birth, “The utterance of him who hears the words of God, and has the knowledge of the Most High who sees the vision of the Almighty, who falls down, with eyes wide open: I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; a star shall come out of Jacob; a Sceptor shall rise out of Israel, and batter the brow of Moab, and destroy all the sons of tumult.” (Numbers 24:17) The Magi who were from the lands of Persia, were experts in astrology. When they looked at the stars, they noticed the Star that shone the brightest, and they prepared themselves for a long journey to Jerusalem so that they may see the Child and present their gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
When the Magi arrived in Jerusalem, they asked King Herod about the whereabouts of the Child Jesus, as it is written in the Holy Bible, “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born so they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘But you Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.’ Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship him also.” (Matthew 2:1-8) In fact, Herod himself wanted to know the whereabouts of the Child Jesus, so that he could destroy Him, because he felt that the Child Jesus would overtake his kingdom.
The Magi traveled to Bethlehem being guided by the star, and the star stopped over the humble place where the Child Jesus lay, along with his mother, the pure Virgin St. Mary and the elderly St. Joseph the Carpenter, the servant of the holy, divine incarnation. The Magi bowed down and worshipped the Child Jesus Christ. They presented to Him their gifts, which consisted of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The gold was a symbol of kingship – because our Lord Jesus Christ is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The frankincense was a symbol priesthood, as our Lord Jesus Christ is the ultimate High Priest. Finally, the myrrh was a symbol of our Lord Jesus Christ’s sufferings unto death, through which He gave us life and saved us.
When the Magi were ready to return to Herod, the Holy Bible tells us: “Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.” (Matthew 2:12) and “Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child and destroy Him.” When he arose he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled in which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”” (Matthew 2:13-15)
Isaiah the prophet prophesied about this blessed journey before its occurrence by approximately 700 years. It is mentioned in the 19th chapter of Isaiah, “The burden against Egypt. Behold, the LORD rides on a swift cloud, and will come into Egypt; the idols of Egypt will totter at His presence, and the heart of Egypt will melt in its midst.” (Isaiah 19:1) and “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.” (Isaiah 19:19) This altar is present until this day, at the Mouharaq Monastery in the city of Assiut, and it is situated exactly in the centre of Egypt. The ‘pillar’ is St. Mark the Apostle, who preached Christianity in Alexandria which is located north of Cairo. In addition, the Lord blessed Egypt through the mouth of Isaiah the prophet, when he said, “Whom the LORD of hosts shall bless, saying, “Blessed is Egypt My people.”” (Isaiah 19:25)
The Holy family’s journey took close to two years from start to finish, until they were guided by God to return to Israel in order to settle in the city of Nazareth, “Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.” (Matthew 2:19-22)
The Holy Family’s Journey
The First location
The start of the escape to Egypt began from Bethlehem; hence, this was the first location. Bethlehem is a small town located six miles south of Jerusalem, and this is where David the prophet and king was born. It was also where our Lord Jesus Christ – the incarnate God, was born for our salvation. Also, Rachel’s tomb is present there, along with the church of the Nativity, which harbours the birth site of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Second Location: The Wilderness of Sinai
The Holy Family arrived at Egypt’s North-East borders to the Egyptian city of Rafah; from there they travelled to Sheik El Zoweid, then to the Areish, then to the city of Baloza (currently known as El Farama, which is close to Port Said). All of these locations are in the Egyptian wilderness of Sinai, close to the Mediterranean Sea.
For the first three locations, the only sign of vegetation consists of a shrub that yields green leaves, similar to green tea; its name is ‘Marmaria’. The leaves of this shrub are beneficial, and when boiled, they make a pleasant beverage when sweetened with sugar. I believe that its original name is ‘Mariamiah’ – after the Virgin Mary, who may have taken some of its leaves to boil and drink during her passage through the first three locations.
Adjacent to the city of El Farama, which is situated in Sinai - three kilometers away from the Mediterranean Sea, there is spot named the Tal El Farama or El Farama Hill. On this hill stand the remains of an old castle-like structure with some ancient pillars. In addition, there are also some remains of the Monastery of St. Mary and St. Isothoros El Faramy. This is why refer to this hill as the Hill of Churches.
The Holy Family entered Sinai, on the border of Egypt on the 24th day of the Coptic month of Bashans, which is the first day of June. The church considers this day to be the feast of the Lord Jesus Christ’s entry to the land of Egypt. The church celebrates this feast annually until this day; it is one of the Coptic Orthodox church’s minor feasts.
The Third Location: Tel Basta (Basta Hill)
The Holy Family arrived at the city of Tel Basta, which is now an ancient city on the outskirts of the city of Zakazik, the capital of the Shariqiyah governate. This city was once known as the ‘city of the gods’, because it was full of temples for idols; which collapsed to the ground and were destroyed as soon as the Holy Family entered Egypt. When the townspeople witnessed this, they were overcome with fear; according to the prophecy of Isaiah the prophet, “The burden against Egypt. Behold, the LORD rides on a swift cloud, and will come into Egypt; the idols of Egypt will totter at His presence, and the heart of Egypt will melt in its midst.” (Isaiah 19:1) When the people learned that the idols and their temples were destroyed as the Holy Family entered their city, they refused to treat them with respect and they forced them out of their city. Nevertheless, the Lord Jesus Christ initiated a spring of water from the ground in that city, so that He, His mother, and Joseph the carpenter could drink from it prior to their departure. This is the first water well that the Lord Jesus initiated during His journey to the land of Egypt. It may be worthy to note that our Lord Jesus initiated 18 water wells altogether throughout His journey in the land of Egypt, some of which are present until this day.
The Fourth Location: Mostorod
Mostorod is located on the outskirts of Cairo, and it is part of the governate of El Kolyobiah – its church is under the diocese of Shobra El Kheima.
The Holy Family visited the city of Mostorod and the Lord Jesus Christ initiated a water well in it, from which every member of the Holy Family drank. It is in this well that the Virgin Mary bathed her divine Son; hence, this well is also known as the ‘Mahama’ i.e. the bath. This water well is also where the Virgin Mary washed the clothes. There is an ancient church located in Mostorod, and many come to visit it, especially during St. Mary’s fast.
The Fifth Location: the City of Belbeis
After departing from the city of Mostord, the Holy Family travelled in the North East direction to the city of Belebeis. This city is currently part of the Shariqiyah governate. It was here that the Holy Family rested under a tree for shade; this tree is known as ‘Mariam’s’ tree, and there is also an ancient church located in Belebeis.
The Sixth Location: the City of Samanoud
Samanoud is currently part of the Gharbiya governate, and it is home to an ancient church named after the Virgin Mary and St. Abanoub El Neheisey. It is under the Mahala Kobra diocese.
When the Holy Family departed from the city of Belbeis, towards the northern part of Egypt, they arrived at the city of Samanoud. It was here that the Holy Family was welcomed with great joy, and when our Lord Jesus restored a dead man’s life back to him, the people of this city rejoiced. The Holy Family remained in the city of Samanoud for an extended period of time. One of the ladies gave the Virgin Mary a vessel made of stone as a gift. This is where the Virgin Mary kneaded dough to make bread for herself and for the rest of the Holy Family. This stone vessel is present to this day; it is enclosed in a glass case located in the church’s courtyard. Also in the church’s courtyard there is a water well, from which the Holy Family drank. Some of this well water is taken and placed into the stone vessel as a blessing for all visitors.
The Seventh Location: the City of Sakha
The city of Sakha is now part of the governate of Kafr El Sheik, close to the Mediterranean Sea. After the Holy Family left the city of Samanoud, they headed to the city of Sakha, whose Coptic name is ‘Bikha Isos’, which is literally translated to: Jesus’ feet.
It is in this city that our Lord Jesus stood over a particular rock and His right foot was imprinted on this rock. This rock is present until this day, with the Lord Jesus’ small footprint on it. It is kept safely in a glass case inside the church. Below the rock, the following words are inscribed: ‘God is one’. In addition, a spring of water gushed from the ground in this city; hence, another water well for the Holy Family to drink from.
A monastery for monks was built in that city; namely, Deir El Maghtas. This monastery remained standing until the thirteenth century, and when it collapsed, a church was built in its place, which is present today.
The Eighth Location: Wadi El Natroun (Natroun Valley)
After departing from the city of Sakha, the Holy Family crossed the Nile River and headed south into the western desert, until they arrived at the Natroun Valley.
The Natroun Valley is a basin landform of 60 kilometers long and 12 kilometres wide. During pharaonic times, it used to be called, ‘Sokhty Hamam’ or ‘Wadey El Malh’ (valley of salt), because its lakes have abundant levels of natural salt. The pharaohs during that time extracted the Natroun salt, which they used in the mummification process for their dead.
While the Holy Family passed by this desert area, they became thirsty, so the Lord Jesus initiated a spring of fresh water for them to drink, and after they drank they rested. This spring of water continued to be a source of fresh water until this day, and it is named, ‘Mariam’s spring’. Later on, the spring’s name was changed to the ‘Hamra Spring’, because a nearby village was developed, and all who lived in the village depended on this spring as their source of fresh water. This spring gave forth abundant amounts of fresh water, which mingled with the surrounding salt water and extended to hundreds of acres. The water in this area is used for medicinal purposes, to treat various ailments such as psoriasis. Also, through the blessings of the Holy Family who visited the Natroun Valley, monasticism began in the year 330 A.D., under the direction of St. Makarios the Great who arrived from one of the villages of the city of Minofiya, close to the Natroun Valley. He lived in a cave in the western part of the valley, where the Baramous Monastery stands today. The two Roman brothers – Saints Maximus and Dometius were the first to be ordained as monks under the guidance of St. Makarios (who is also known as Abba Makar). After they established the monastery, they named it after themselves – El Baramous, which translates to ‘the two romans’.
When the number of monks increased in this monastery, St. Makarios left it in the care of some of his disciples, including: Abba Isothoros and Abba Baphnoteous. After this, St .Makarios went to live in the eastern section of the Natroun Valley. It was there that he founded another monastic group, and another monastery was established; namely Abba Makar Monastery, also known as (Deir Abba Makar).
Abba Makar’s Monastery became famous at around the Middle Ages, and more than 15 patriarchs arose from this monastery to shepherd the Coptic Church. As for the Baramous Monastery, it is also a very well-known monastery out of which came forth great patriarchs in the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries.
Halfway in between Abba Makar’s Monastery and the Baramous Monastery, two large monasteries were established; namely, St. Bishoy’s Monastery and St. Mary’s Monastery El Sourian. They are close to the rest house which is located in the desert route of Cairo – Alexandria.
St. Bishoy’s Monastery was established during the fifth century under the supervision of St. Bishoy. This monastery is well known, especially for its prime papal residence, which was established by the late Pope Shenouda III. It is here that the late Pope Shenouda III spent close to three days per week as a spiritual retreat. When Pope Shenouda III departed to heaven on the 17th of March 2012, he was buried inside the monastery in a special tomb, and this tomb has become like an exhibition where some of his personal belongings are displayed – it is a famous shrine.
After Pope Shenouda’s departure to heaven, when His Holiness Pope Tawadros II was ordained, he too adopted the same papal residence. Pope Tawadros also renovated the residence and added to its infrastructure, and he built additional churches. His Holiness Pope Tawadros II also spends a few days here, to worship and to rest. In addition, the Pope spends time here during feasts such as Easter and Christmas, in addition to conducting conventions at the same location. May the Lord prolong his life for the church and for monasticism.
As for St. Mary’s Monastery El Sourian, it is adjacent to St. Bishoy’s Monastery; they are separated by a fence. This monastery was built in the sixth century over the cave where St. Bishoy used to dwell, which is close to his monastery. St. Bishoy’s cave is present to this day, and it is adjacent to the main church in the Sourian Monastery.
This monastery was named after St. Mary the Mother of God, and it is amongst the monasteries of the Theotokos that were established after the council of Ephesus in the year 431 A.D., in order to confirm the doctrine of the Theotokos.
St. Mary’s Monastery became known as the ‘Sourian Monastery’ because in the eighth century, monks from the Syrian orthodox church (which is our sister church) came to spend some time in it, so it carried their origin and both names were united. Hence, it became, St. Mary’s Monastery El Sourian.
The Scetis desert or the Scete of Makarios in the Natroun Valley was known for its higher learning in monasticism. Therefore, monks from all ethnicities and countries came to learn about monasticism from the teachings of the monasteries senior monks and educators. They lived in neighbouring monasteries beside the Coptic monks; hence, in the desert we find the Sourian Monastery along with the Ethiopian Monastery, the Armenian Monastery, and the Nubian Monastery.
The Sourian Monastery is famous for its many anchorites and its knowledgeable monks. It is also notorious for its large and diverse library, which contains many ancient manuscripts and various writings in many different languages, including: Arabic, Coptic, Greek, Syrian, Ethiopian, English, and French amongst others.
In our current century, the late Pope Shenouda III emerged from this monastery. He uplifted the name of the Coptic Church to its highest peak throughout the world, through his diverse knowledge and spirituality. Also, many bishops and metropolitans arose from this monastery, who are known for their piety and vast knowledge.
The Ninth Station: The Matariyah city and the city of Ein Shams
The Holy Family departed from the Natroun Valley to the districts of Matariyah and Ein Shams. Ein Shams is an old district and during pharaonic times, it used to be called the city of On. It was a famous city because all ancient priests and kings studied there. It is even mentioned in the Holy Bible, that Joseph the righteous married Asenath, the daughter of Poti-Pherah priest of On. “And Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphnath-Paaneah. And he gave him as a wife Asenath, the daughter of Poti-Pherah priest of On. So Joseph went out over all the land of Egypt… And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went throughout all the land of Egypt.” (Genesis 41:45) This is the city of Shams, as was mentioned in the prophecy of Isaiah, “In that day there shall be five cities in the land of Egypt, speaking the language of Chanaan, and swearing by the Lord of hosts: one shall be called the city of the sun.” (Isaiah19:18) When the Greeks invaded Egypt, they called this city Heliopolis, i.e., the city of the sun or Madinat El Shams.
The Holy Family then arrived at the Matariyah district, which is close to Ein Shams, and there the Lord Jesus initiated a spring of fresh water. The Holy Family drank from this water. The water was also used by the Virgin Mary to wash the clothes of the Child Jesus. When the water spilled over onto the land, a beautifully fragrant balsam shrub sprouted. To this day, there is a street in that area named Balsam Street.
The Holy Family rested under a large tree that today is known as ‘Mariam’s tree’, and it still stands strong. Beside this tree people planted other trees of the same species that survived till this day. The tree and the well of spring water are surrounded by a large fence; they both serve as an important landmark for tourists. This landmark was visited by Empress Eugenie of France, and she took its blessings when she came to visit Egypt to attend the opening of the Suez Canal in the year 1869. Also, many of the French soldiers came to visit this landmark during the French campaign in Egypt, and they also took the blessings of the well water. Some of the soldiers were even healed from various diseases and they wrote their names and words of gratitude onto the tree.
The Tenth Station: El Zeitoun
After the Holy Family departed from the district of El Matariyah, they headed towards the district of El Zeitoun, where they rested for a short while. After twenty centuries, our lady the Virgin Mary appeared at the church which is named after her, located on the street of Tomanbay in El Zeitoun. This miraculous apparition was on the 2nd of April in the year 1968. The Virgin Mary continued to appear over this church for about a whole year, and hundreds of thousands of people from various religions and ethnicities witnessed her. This church became a world renowned landmark until this day. In the year 2018, the Coptic Church celebrates the passage of 50 years for this glorious apparition – it is a celebration that is deemed worthy of our lady the Virgin Mary – the Mother of God.
The Eleventh Station: Haret El Zeweila
The Holy Family came to Haret El Zeweila or (Zeweila Alley) and they drank from a water well there. In the fourth century, God guided a wealthy Coptic man whose name was “Zelon the wise”, to build a church in this area around the water well. As for the origins of the name “Zeweila”: When Gohar El Souqli, a Fatimid general who founded the city of Cairo, was leading the conquest of Egypt, there was an entourage that accompanied him, and one of the tribes in this entourage were known by the name of the “Zeweila tribe” – they were originally from Morocco. The Zeweila tribe then settled in a particular part of Cairo, so it was named after them.
The church in this area was named, ‘The church of St. Mary, who liberates from the iron chains’. The church was named in honour of the miracle whereby the Virgin Mary liberated St. Matthias (one of the twelve apostles in Asia Minor) from the iron shackles that he was bound with while in prison. The iron shackles with which Matthias the Apostle was bound, dissolved, and he was liberated through the Virgin Mary’s prayers. The church celebrates an annual feast along with venerations in honour of this miracle, on the 21st day of the Coptic month of Baouna, which is the 28th of June.
This church is an ancient, dating back to the fourth century, and it served as a papal residence for 23 patriarchs of the Coptic Orthodox Church, for more than 360 years. Adjacent to this church there are two convents; one is named after St. Mary and the other is named after the prince of martyrs – St. George. The nuns who live in these convents follow in the footsteps of our lady the Virgin Mary who blessed this place. This is because nuns have devoted their hearts to Christ, and their bodies to virginity. They lead a life of worship, seclusion, and attachment to God, just as our Lady the Virgin Mary who blessed this place.
The Twelfth Location: the Church of the Virgin Mary, El Ezbawiya
The Holy Family departed from Haret El Zeweila and travelled until they reached Old Cairo, which was directly on the shores of the Nile River. On their way they passed by the city of Ezbakiyah, Cairo. It is in this city that St. Mark’s Cathedral was built in the eighteenth century, and it harbours the papal residence. This papal residence served as an abode to nine of the Coptic Church’s Patriarchs, over the course of more than 150 years. This was the fruit of the blessings of the Holy Family, who passed by this location.
Adjacent to St. Mark’s cathedral stands the Virgin Mary’s Church, Ezbawiya. It was named Ezbawiya because it stands in an alley called ‘Etfat El Ezba’ and this street branches off into a larger space called ‘Harat El Geneina’ or the ‘Valley of Gardens’. The name indicates that when the Holy Family passed through this area, it consisted of an agricultural piece of land. It had a garden that was full of fruit trees, along with some acreage that belonged to a wealthy farmer. At the entrance to the Ezbawiya, there is a well and it is said that the Holy Family drank from it. It has a marble slab with the words, ‘The Virgin Mary’s Well’ inscribed on it. A marvelous miracle occurred at this location, through the blessings of the Holy Family as they were passing by. The miracle is as follows:
When the Holy Family passed through this piece of land, they encountered an Egyptian farmer sowing watermelon seeds. He welcomed them and he gave them water to drink from the well. He also used this well water to irrigate his land. It may be worthy to note that the well is still present inside the Ezbawiya building. While the Holy Family rested, the Virgin Mary said to the farmer, “We are fleeing from the face of King Herod, because he wants to kill this innocent child.” The Virgin Mary then told the farmer about the Lord Jesus Christ, as well as His divine incarnation. After hearing this, the farmer was moved, and he was touched by the innocent Child Jesus, as well as the Virgin Mary’s beautiful and spiritual words. The Virgin Mary then said to him, “By the strength of my Son – the Lord Jesus Christ, a marvelous miracle will take place on your land – you will see it early tomorrow morning when you return to your land. The next day, some men will pass by your land and they will ask you about us; they will describe our appearances to you. They will ask you if you have seen an old man, a young girl, and a young child with them, travelling on a donkey. Tell them that the family you are describing did indeed pass by here, when I was sowing watermelon seeds.” After the farmer heard this, he bid the Holy Family farewell and he returned to his home. The Holy Family then departed from the area of Old Cairo and they hid in a cave that is present in the church of Abu Serga. The next morning, the farmer returned to his land and he found that the watermelon seeds which he sowed the night before, had grown into large and ripe watermelons, overnight! It is exactly as the Virgin Mary had prophesied to him – that a miracle would occur on his land. He witnessed it with his own eyes and he sat down to ponder what had happened.
A few hours later, Herod’s messengers arrived in search of the Holy Family so that they may capture them. They asked the farmer about the Holy Family and they described their appearances to him. In response, the farmer said to them, “There was a family with this description who passed by, as I was sowing the watermelon seeds on my land…” (Just as the Virgin Mary had instructed him to say). When Herod’s messengers heard this, they looked at the watermelons and they were greatly disappointed as they said to each other, “The family passed by this area three or four months ago…” They returned back to their land in despair, and the Holy Family was saved from their hands.
The Thirteenth Location: the Church of Abu Serga, Old Cairo
The Holy Family arrived in Old Cairo and they took refuge in a cave beneath the ground, adjacent to the fortress of Babylon, and they lived in this cave for three months. Eventually, this cave was turned into a small church, and another larger church was built above it. The larger church above was named after the two martyrs, Saints Sargeos and Bacchus. The church then became known as Abu Serga’s Church. This is a famous church that is visited by many tourists from around the world, as they seek the blessings of the place where the Holy Family lived for some time.
Also, in Abu Serga’s Church there is an old well from which the Holy Family drank. There is also a deep plunge basin in this church, which was present since the rule of Allah El Fatimy, who forbade Christians to celebrate the feast of the Epiphany on the shores of the Nile River. Since he brutally persecuted the Christians for this reason, the church found a way to continue to celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. A hole (well like structure) was dug in the nave of a few churches, and it was filled with water during the feast of the Epiphany. The holy lakan prayers were recited over the water, and then some of the male youth would enter the well with their clothes intact, in order to take the blessings of the holy water during this joyous feast.
The Church of Abu Serga is one of the oldest churches that were built in Egypt. Adjacent to this church is a church similar in antiquity, namely, the Moualaqa Church or the ‘hanging church’. This church is named the ‘hanging church’ because of the way that it is situated – over the gatehouse of Babylon’s Roman fortress. The church is officially named after our lady the Virgin Mary. The two adjacent churches: The Moualaqa and Abu Serga, are home to a Coptic museum that was established by a Pasha, one of the wealthy Coptic Christians who loved Coptic History. This museum is currently part of the ministry of antiquities.
The church of Abu Serga celebrates Christ’s entry into Egypt on the 24th day of the Coptic month of Bashans; which is also the first day of June. It is our wish that one day soon, this day can become a national annual holiday in Egypt.
The Fourteenth Location: The church of the Virgin Mary in the city of El Maady
The Holy Family arrived at the city of Maady, on the shores of the Nile River. At this location, a church was later built and named: the church of the Virgin Mary ‘Maadiya’ or ‘who passed by’. The reason is, that the Holy Family passed by this location and boarded a ship to cross the Nile River in order to reach Upper Egypt. This whole region was then named, the city of Maady, or the ‘city of passage’.
Initially, when this place was far from Cairo’s city life, a monastery was established there by the name of St. Mary’s Monastery El Adwiya. However, when the Maady district developed further and became populated, it was no longer suitable for monks to dwell there; especially since monks are accustomed to living in solitude and tranquility in the wilderness and in caves. Hence, the monastery was transformed into a church in order to serve the congregation members who lived in the area.
The Holy Family lived in this area for a few days, until they boarded a boat to sail across to Upper Egypt. Indeed, in this church’s courtyard, there is an opening that leads to stairs, which lead to the Nile River. It is said that this is where the Holy Family boarded a boat, and sailed across the Nile River to Upper Egypt.
On the 12th of March 1976, after the Holy Liturgy was prayed in this church, some of the congregation members saw a large Holy Bible floating on top of the Nile River. The Bible floated towards the church until it stopped in front of the ancient steps that lead up to the church. The congregation members picked up the Bible, and they found that it was open to the 19th chapter of the book of Isaiah the prophet, where it is written, “Behold, the Lord rides on a swift cloud, And will come into Egypt...” (Isaiah 19:1), and they also saw the words, “Blessed be Egypt, My people.” (Isaiah 19:25)
The church placed this Bible in a glass case inside a small shrine within the church, and they left it open to the same page as it was found. This Bible is present at the church to this day, and it confirms that the Holy Family came to Egypt and passed by this particular location.
The Fifteenth Location: Deir El Garnos Village
The village of Deir El Garnos falls under the district of Maghaga, governate of El Minya. This village is located south of Maghaga by more than 20 kilometers. The whole village is populated by Christians, and it has a Coptic church that was built in the 19th century. Inside the church there is a well from which the Holy Family drank during their stay at this location.
The Sixteenth Location: El Bahnasa
El Bahnasa is a large village that falls under the district of Bani Mazar in the governate of El Minya. El Bahnasa is located approximately 17 kilometers towards the west of Bani Mazar. This village is at the edge of the western desert, adjacent to Joseph’s sea; all of its inhabitants are Muslim. In days of old, it used to be a vast Christian diocese that harboured many churches, monasteries for monks, and convents for nuns.
Currently, within the fence of the village mosque there are two large trees, with the words, ‘Miriam’s tree’ inscribed on them. This is also one of the locations that the Holy Family visited.
The Seventeenth Location: St. Mary’s Monastery Gabal El Teir, Samalot
This monastery overlooks the Nile River and it is located east of Samalot city. This monastery is known by many names:
- Monastery of Gabal El Teir (Mount of birds): During the winter months, a unique species of birds used to flock here seeking warmth.
- The Bakarah (spool) Monastery: This monastery is located at the edge of Mount Bakarah. Anyone who wanted to reach it, would need to do so by boat through the Nile River, and then ascend up to the mountain using a wooden box attached to a rope. The rope is wound around a large spool (bakarah) located at the mountain top. When the spool is spun, the rope pulls the wooden box up, until it reaches the top of the mountain and people step out safely. This spool contraption is also used to obtain water from the Nile River, which flows directly below the monastery.
- The Kaf Monastery, or ‘Palm’ Monastery: Ancient manuscripts teach us that while the Holy Family sailed across the Nile River (directly beneath this location), one of the rocks fell and headed directly towards the boat which the Holy Family sailed on. However, our Lord Jesus extended His hand and shielded the boat from the rock, so that it did not harm them. Additionally, the Lord’s hand print appeared on this rock. This rock is still present along with the palm-print of our Lord Jesus. The rock is kept at one of the British Museums. During England’s invasion of Egypt, the British transferred this rock to England.
The monastery’s ancient church is carved in the mountain, because Queen Helen, mother of King Constantine came to this location in the fourth century and ordered that a church be carved into the mountain. Queen Helen also ordered that the church should be named after our lady the Virgin Mary. Inside the church there is a wide stone pillar, and in its centre there is a stone baptistery carved within. St. Mary’s Monastery Gabal El Teir is one of the most important landmarks that the Holy Family visited.
The Eighteenth Location: El Ashmoniyin, Malawy
After the Holy Family blessed Gabal El Teir in the city of Samalot, they crossed the Nile River and sailed west towards the district of El Ashmoniyin. El Ashmoniyin is one of the oldest cities in Egypt, and it is well known for the bishop who dwelt there in the fourth century, namely, Abba Sawiros. It was under the shepherding of Abba Sawiros, that the miracle of moving the Mokatam Mountain took place in Cairo. Abba Sawiros also diligently gathered all the biographies of the patriarchs, from St. Mark who established the Coptic Church in Egypt, all the way to the patriarchs of the tenth century.
The Nineteenth Location: Mair
The Holy Family departed to the village of Mair which is 7 kilometers west of the city of Qos, in Upper Egypt. The people of this village welcomed the Holy Family; hence, the Lord Jesus and the Virgin Mary blessed them. Until this day, this is a hallowed village, and the blessings that flow from it are a beacon of light for all.
The Twentieth Location: Mount Koskam (where the Moharaq Monastery is currently present)
The Holy Family departed from Mair to Mount Koskam – a mountainous region with desert grasses such as the alpha grass, which used to be burned in order to make burial shrouds; hence, it was known as the ‘burial place…’ Currently, there is a monastery in this location, named after our lady the Virgin Mary, El Moharaq. This is the last and most important location, where the Holy Family settled for more than 6 months. It was at this location that the angel appeared to St. Joseph the Carpenter and said to him, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” (Matthew 2:20) The Virgin Mary’s church in the Moharaq Monastery is ancient, and this is where the Holy Family remained for the majority of their time in Egypt. During that time, the monastery was a simple farm house.
The altar of this church consists of the rock where our Lord Jesus used to lay asleep during the Holy Family’s stay at this location. When the church was built, this rock became the altar and it is still present until this day. It is with regards to this altar that Isaiah the prophet stated the following words, 700 years prior to Christ’s birth, he said, “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.” (Isaiah 19:19) Indeed, the prophecy was fulfilled, and the Moharaq Monastery along with the altar that is named after the Virgin Mary, are positioned precisely at the centre of the land of Egypt. Additionally, geographically, Egypt is positioned in the midst of the world; hence, the blessings of this altar extend to the whole world.
This church was built at the start of the first century, and Christ Himself came from heaven along with His pure apostles and He consecrated this altar with His pure hand. Therefore, when one of the patriarchs wanted to consecrate the altar, our lady the Virgin Mary appeared to him and said, “Our Lord Jesus consecrated this altar with His pure hand, so it does not need to be consecrated again.” Therefore, the Pope himself was forbidden to consecrate it. The church celebrates the consecration of this altar by the hand of our Lord Jesus on the 6th day of the Coptic month of Hatour, November 15th according to the Coptic Synixarium.
The Twenty First Location: St. Mary’s Monastery on Mount Assiut
When the Holy Family heard that it was safe to return back to their home- land, they departed from Mount Koskam and headed south towards Mount Assiut. It seems that Mount Assiut was close to the Nile River, where the pier was located. This is where ships sailed back and forth from north to south. The Holy Family took refuge on a cave at the top of the mountain, for a few days. When the appointed time came, they found a ship that would set sail to transport them to the northern part of Egypt. This cave, which is carved in Mount Assiut now has a church in its centre. The mountain is located about 8 kilometers away from the city of Assiut, which dates back to pharaonic times. The Pharaohs used to collect rocks from this mountain to build their temples. They also took refuge in this cave during the days when the waters of the Nile River were elevated.
The Holy Family then boarded a boat and they set sail to return to Palestine, according to the command of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, so that the words of Hosea the prophet may be fulfilled, when he said, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” (Hosea 1:11)
May the blessings of the Holy Family be with us all,