Journey of The Holy Family to Egypt
It was during the beginning of the 1st century AD that an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and warned him to flee to Egypt, to secure Jesus Christ from Herod, who was seeking to kill the young children to preserve his kingdom.
“…and called my son out of Egypt” (Hosea 11:1).
Jesus Christ carried in the arms of his mother Virgin Mary and the servant of birth St. Joseph the Carpenter, fled to the land of Egypt, a journey that lasted for about three years and eleven months, according to the papyrus published by Cologne University (1997).
“… behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young Child and His mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him” (Matthew 2:13)
By His visit God converted Egypt from being a center of paganism to becoming one of the most important centers of Christian thoughts and spiritual worship.
“And the Lord shall be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day, and shall do sacrifice and oblation; yea, they shall vow a vow unto the Lord, and perform it.” (Isaiah 19:21)
This holy visit is considered as one of the important glorious treasures of the Egyptian cultural history and the feast of the Christ arrival to Egypt is celebrated annually in the Coptic Churches on the 1st of June (24 Bashans according to the Coptic calendar).
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The Journey of the Holy Family in Egypt
The journey started from the homeland of Jesus Christ at Bethlehem and they arrived in Egypt via North Sinai, passing through several sites at the Delta, Wadi el Natrun, greater Cairo and Upper Egypt.
“The burden of Egypt. Behold, the Lord rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence, and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it.” (Isaiah 19:1)
They wandered from east to west and from north to south, as though the Holy Family was drawing a geographic cross on the land of Egypt. Their last stop was Deir El Muharraq (Assiut), from which the return journey started.
Holy Family in Egypt Tour Packages
Holy Family Trip (Cairo – Wadi ElNatroun- Assiut –Mineya)
Follow the steps of Jesus Christ to the holy sites, seek the blessings of Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary, and drink from the water Jesus drank from at St. Sergius. Explore the Upper Egyptian sites, and visit the Monastery of El Muharraq, that was inaugurated by Jesus Christ himself.Read More
Holy Family Journey (Cairo – Wadi ElNatroun- Assiut- St Catherine)
Seek the blessings of the Holy Family at the Western Desert, and visit one of the most important monastery complexes in Egypt, Wadi El Natrun. The Church of Virgin Mary at Maady preserves the blessing of God to the land of Egypt, part of the Bible that reads: “Blessed be Egypt my people” (Isaiah 19:25).Read More
Holy Family Adventure (Cairo – Wadi ElNatroun- Mineya- Assiut)
Visit the Cathedral of St. Mary at Zeitoun to gain the blessings of Virgin Mary who appeared in 1968, and drink from the water Jesus drank from at St. Sergius. Wander through Upper Egypt, and explore Gebel El Kaf, that carries the handprint of Jesus Christ.Read More
Holy Family Journey (Cairo –St Catherine)
Follow the steps of Jesus Christ to the holy sites, seek the blessings of Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary, and drink from the water Jesus drank from at St. Sergius. At the foot of Moses Mountain, be enchanted by the Egyptian desert, and visit the holy site of St. Catherine Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.Read More
Holy Family Package (Cairo – Wadi ElNatroun- Mineya- Assiut)
Seek the blessings of the Holy Family at the Western Desert, and visit one of the most important monastery complexes in Egypt, Wadi El Natrun. At Cairo, don’t miss drinking from the water Jesus drank from at St. Sergius, and enjoy sightseeing at Giza.Read More
Holy Family Trip (Cairo – Wadi ElNatroun- Assiut- Mineya)
Follow the footsteps of the holly family, visit the places that witnessed Biblical history at Egypt. It’s a journey that speaks of holy sites. Visit the hidden gem, the cave church of St. Samaan at Moqattam, and take the steps leading to one of the most beautiful churches in the Middle East known as the Hanging Church at Old Cairo.Read More
Journey to the Holy Family (Cairo – Wadi ElNatroun- Mineya- Assiut)
Explore the Upper Egyptian sites, and visit the Monastery of El Muharraq, that was inaugurated by Jesus Christ himself. The Church of Virgin Mary at Maady preserves the blessing of God to the land of Egypt, part of the Bible that reads: “Blessed be Egypt my people” (Isaiah 19:25).Read More
The Holy Family coming from Palestine, crossed the eastern borders of Egypt until they reached to the desert of Sinai.
“Behold the word, of the prophet came to pass, when he spoke, concerning the Master. Mary the saint, the light cloud, carried the Holy One, today in Egypt” (The Holy Psalmody: Psali Adam for the Feast 536, 37).
They passed through several important sites in Sinai before reaching to the Nile valley. Among them are Rafia, where a statue of the Virgin Mary and another for St. George had been found, El-Arish (the capital of North Sinai), Al-Flouseiat, Al-Kals and El-Mouhamadieh, until they reached El- Farma.
El-Farma (ancient Pelusium)
It was the last stop point of the journey in Sinai, located in the midway between the city of El-Arish and Port Said, in the north western part of Sinai. During ancient times, the city was called Pelusium, and it was considered as one of the most important seaports and trade centers at the most eastern branch of the Nile (Pelusiac branch).
El-Farma was an important monasticism center in Egypt, where famous monks lived and built their monasteries there, such as the monastery of el-Her located on the northern Coast of Suez Canal. The monastery was the place where St. Isidore lived.
Lately, the Eastern Church has been discovered, which is considered as the largest Basilica church of north Sinai, along with a baptistery in a cross shape, and a martyr shrine. These places date back to the end of the fifth century up to the end of the seventh century, and it is believed that, all of those places were previously visited by the Holy Family.
Tall el-Kanaeis (the Hill of Churches), is another site located on the western side of El-Farma. The site is a hill rising about 8 meters from the ground level. Several churches were built on the hill.
The building of the main church is divided into two parts; the western part which is used for worshiping, and the eastern part is rounded in shape and used for liturgical prayers. To the west of the site of Tell El-Kanaeis, a water-wheel and several water canals have been discovered, which were used to supply the churches with water.
The Holy Family resumed their journey travelling through the Lower Egyptian sites in the Nile Delta. Tell Basta, Mostorod, Belbes, Daqadous, Samannoud and Sakha were blessed by the arrival and stay of the Holy Family.
It is a small town at Sharqia Governorate, near Zagazig (100 km north-east of Cairo). Jesus Christ caused a water spring to well up from the ground, and His holy presence caused the idols to crumble.
Subsequently, the town folks were not-welcoming and aggressive. Therefore, the Holy family departed from the town and headed southwards.
“If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.” (John 4:10)
It is a town at Qalubiya Governorate (10 km north-east of Cairo). It was called “Al-Mahmma” which means the bathing place. It is believed that Virgin Mary bathed Jesus Christ and washed his clothes there. It is notable that the Holy Family stopped once again at this town, during the Return Journey.
During their stay, Jesus caused a water spring to gush from the earth, and it still flows to our present day. The Church of the Virgin Mary was established on the cave, where the holy family had taken refuge. The church celebrates its consecration each year on the 8th of Paoni (15th June)
It is a town at Sharqia Governorate (55 km north-east of Cairo). The Holy Family rested in this town under the shade of a sycamore tree, ‘Virgin Mary’s Tree’, which stood until mid of the 19th century.
The Holy Family passed by this town, which is located at Dakahliya Governorate (90 km north of Cairo). The Church of the Virgin Mary was established around the water well where the Holy Family had drunk from.
The Holy Family crossed the Damietta branch of the river Nile and reached Samannoud, a city located on the western bank of the Damietta branch. The local community received them with big joy, and so Jesus Christ blessed them.
The Church of Virgin Mary was built hundred years ago, on the ruins of an older church that was established in the same place where the Holy Family used to stay. The Church of St. Mary and St. Abanoub was established over a water-well which Christ himself hallowed. There is, to this day, a large granite trough which, according to local belief, was used by the Virgin for kneading bowl.
It is a town located at Kafr El-Sheikh Governorate (130 km north of Cairo). The Coptic name of the town is ‘Pekha-Issous’ which means ‘the foot of Jesus’. The name is literally inspired by the rock with a bas-relief of the foot of Child Jesus imprinted on it.
On 27th of September 1984, during excavations around the Church of Virgin Mary, the rock that bears the footprint of Jesus Christ, was preserved but hidden for centuries for fear of robbery was unearthed. The stone is on display for pilgrimage in a glass case inside the church. The church is reputed to have been built by Empress Helena.
Wadi El Natrun
The Holy Family, leaving Sakha behind, crossed the Rosetta branch of the Nile river, one of the seven branches at that time, and headed south into the Western Desert, blessing Wadi El-Natrun with their stay there. This route was documented from the vision of Pope Theophilus. Wadi El Natrun is located mid-way between Cairo and Alexandria (80 km southeast of Cairo and 85 km northwest of Alexandria).
Before reaching Wadi El Natrun, the Holy Family passed by the spring of Al-Humra where Jesus caused a water spring to well up from the ground, it is known as Beer Mariam (Mary’s Well).
“He asks to drink, and promises to give drink. He longs as one about to receive; He abounds as one about to satisfy” (Augustine 202; vol. 7)
Wadi El Natrun became the site of monastic settlements and, later, of many monasteries, in spiritual commemoration of the Holy Family’s passage through the valley. Several important monasteries were established including: The Paromeos Monastery, The Syrian Monastery of Saint Mary, The Monastery of Saint Pishoy and The Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great.
The Holy Family left the desert and made their way southward, crossing the Nile to the eastern side heading for Ain Shams and El-Matariyah. Both adjacent districts are suburbs of modern Cairo. Babylon and El-Maadi areas were blessed with their stay, before they headed to Upper Egypt.
Ain Shams and El-Matariyah
In the Holy bible, the city of Ain Shams is called
“the city of the sun” (Isaiah 19:18), “house of the sun” (Aramia 43:15) and “O^n” (Hezekiah 30:17).
It is also known as Heliopolis. It believed that when the Holy Family entered the city, its idols crumbled.
The city of El-Matariyah (13 km north the city center) is considered among one of the most sacred places that the Holy Family passed through. It believed that the Holy Family rested under the shades of a sycamore tree which is still regularly visited, it is called ‘Shagaret Mariam’ or Mary’s tree. The ancient tree fell off in 1904, and the current tree was planted as a part of the living root of the ancient one. The Supreme Council of Antiquities fenced the tree to be a touristic site.
The infant Jesus caused a water spring to flow, from which he drank from, and blessed its water. Moreover, Virgin Mary washed his clothes and poured the washing water onto the ground. It is the place where the fragment balsam plant blossomed. The balsam plant is used in the preparation of the scents and perfumes of which the holy Chrism is composed.
Later on, the Church of St. Mary have constructed near Mary’s tree to celebrate the feast of the entrance of the Holy Family into Egypt and take the blessing of Mary’s tree.
The European pilgrims who visit Jerusalem have to pass by Mary’s tree. The ritual of the memorial of the Holy Family’s journey never ends, before taking the blessings of Mary’s tree.
After leaving Ain Shams and El-Matariyah, the Holy Family rested for a while at Zeitoun (11 km north the city center). Later on, the Church and Cathedral of St. Mary had been established there. The Cathedral was established after the appearance on Virgin Mary in the domes of her church in 2nd of April 1968.
Old Cairo (Babylon)
The Holy Family headed to Old Cairo (5 km north the city center), which is considered among the most important destinations visited by the Holy Family in Egypt. They stayed at Old Cairo until Herod’s soldiers heard about them, so they had to move to Upper Egypt. They blessed the district both in the arrival and the return journeys, thus a large church community had been established with an important Coptic heritage.
They took shelter in a cave (4 m under the ground) above which, the Church of St. Sergius and St. Bacchus was later built by Empress Helena. The church is located approximately in the center of the present remains of the Babylon fortress.
The Holy Family sheltered in this cave, until Herod’s soldiers discovered their place, and later it became an important site during their journey to Egypt.
The church is a model of early Coptic churches, built in Basilica style. The building is composed of a vast central hall that is divided into three naves separated by two rows of twelve columns that were attached to wooden frieze containing the traces of ancient drawings.
The crypt is accessed through stairs at the two-sided sanctuaries. The southern sanctuary is not used for liturgy service and it contains a well that the Holy Family drank from and blessed its water.
The Holy Family left Old Cairo behind, and moved southwards until reaching modern Cairo suburbs, Maady (12 km south of Cairo), from which they boarded a sailing-boat to reach southern Egypt.
The Church of Virgin Mary was built on this spot, it was also known as al-Adaweya or the Virgin’s church of the ferry. The church’s court yard is connected to the river’s bank via stone stairs, and it believed to have been used by the Holy Family. Now it is fenced by an iron gate for protection.
A Holy Bible, of unknown origin, was found in 1976 floating on the Nile and reached to the bank below the church, it is inscribed with a verse from Isaiah book, “Blessed be Egypt my people” (Isaiah 19:25). Now it preserved inside a glass case in the sanctuary of the Virgin in the church.
Each year, on the 1st of June, the church holds a special ceremony for celebrating the of the Holy Family’s arrival to Egypt.
It is believed that the Holy Family crossed the western branch of the Nile and headed to Al-Badrashin, ancient Memphis (now Mit Rahina), which was the capital of ancient Egypt.
The Holy Family fared upstream on the Nile river, travelling through the Upper Egyptian sites. The holy Family stayed and left us some evidences at El Bahnasa, Gabal El Teir, Hermopolis Magna (Al Ashmounein), Dayrout Um Nakhla, Deir Abu Hennes, Kom Marya, Dayrout Al Sherif, El Qoussia and most importantly Deir El Muharraq. Gebel Dronka is recorded as the first site in the return journey.
It is a town located at El-Minya Governorate (200 km southwest of Cairo). The Coptic name of the town is ‘Abai Issous’ that is the ‘Home of Jesus’. A papyrus, written with the handwriting of Joseph the Carpenter, was found in this place stating: “I, Joseph the carpenter from the people of Nazareth, came with Virgin Mary and her beloved Son and Salone to the land of Egypt and we resided in this place for four days in great peace”.
During the early Christianity, a church had been established in this place: Garnous Monastery. Nowadays, there is a church dedicated to Virgin Mary, which was rebuilt in 1870. The church was established on an ancient well that the Holy Family drank from, which is located under the alter.
It is a mountainous site, located at El-Minya Governorate (200 km southeast of Cairo), to the east of Samalout. The Holy Family rested in the cave which is now located inside the ancient Church of Gabal El Tair.
The mountain is also known as Gabal El-Kaf (Palm Mountain), because according to Coptic traditions, Jesus Christ stretched his little hand to hold back a rock which was about to dispatch from the mountainside and fall upon them.
The Holy Family passed by a laurel tree named Shagaret El-Abed (Worshipper Tree, which was located 2km south of Gabal El-Tair. It is claimed that this tree bowed to worship Jesus Christ as he was passing. The configuration of the tree is unique: all its branches incline downwards, trailing on the ground, then upwards again, covered in a clock of green leaves.
The ancient Greek name of the town is Hermopolis Magna. The town is located 300km south of Cairo. During the passage of the Holy Family, the idols were struck down spontaneously from their positions, and were smashed and destroyed.
Foundations of an ancient Basilica Church were excavated by archaeologists, and it is said to have had 48 granite pillars. The church was constructed during the fifth century and demolished in the eleventh century.
Dairout Um Nakhla
It is a small town near Malawy. The town got its name referring to the palms and trees in that area, which bowed glorifying the passage of the Child Jesus. There, according to local tradition, Jesus sprang a water well.
Dairout Abu Hennes
The naming of the site refers to the Church of St. John, the short. He was among the eminent saints that inhabited the Scetis desert at the early Christian age. The church was built by Empress Helena. During the fourth and fifth centuries, thousands of monks dwelled the mountain and ancient monasteries remnants still exist. The Holy Family spent a short time there.
Kom Maria (Maria’s Hill)
It is a small town, located at Asyuit Governorate (230 km southwest of Cairo). Later, the Church of Virgin Mary was established, and residents from several villages gather annually to celebrate the feast of Virgin Mary.
Dairout Al Sherif
The Holy Family travelled heading south, and dwelled at a small town 20 km away from Kom Maria known as Dairout Al Sherif. According to local tradition, Jesu Christ performed many miracles there.
The villagers of this town did not welcome the Holy Family and expelled them out. Thus, the city was totally damaged, and the current town was built upon the ancient one. According to local tradition, the Holy Family stayed for 10 days in the eastern hill, and the Church of the Virgin Mary, was constructed above the cave that the Holy Family stayed in.
The Holy Family headed to Mer (7km south of Al Qoussia), and on the contrary, villagers welcomed the Holy Family and Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary blessed them and their lands to an extent that its land became well known for its fertility and numerous agricultural crops.
Deir Al Muharraq
This site is considered as the most meaningful destination of the journey. It is located at Asyuit Governorate (327km south of Cairo). The place was mentioned as the geographical mid-point of 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).
The Monastery of Al-Muharraq nestles against the western foothills of the Mountain. It was built around the area where the Holy Family remained just over six months. Their time was spent mainly in a cave which became, in the Coptic era, the alter of the Church of Virgin Mary, built on the western end of the monastery complex.
Jesus performed many healing miracles for the area dwellers, thus; they rushed towards Him to be blessed and healed from their illness and get rid of their pains. There is also a water-well that Holy Family drank from, and accordingly the water from the well have a healing power to everyone who drinks o bathes in its water by faith. As a result, the Copts of Egypt and some Ethiopians consider the area of the Monastery of Al-Muharraq as the Second Jerusalem.
At this place, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child's life” (Mathews 2:20). And thus, from this spot the return journey started.
Several sites were recorded according to local tradition such as Ahnasia, Eshneen El-Nassara and Tell El Amarna.
Return to Palestine
It is mentioned in the book of Sabwah manuscript that the Holy Family’s return journey headed to the river, and St. Joseph requested a sailing boat and Egyptians celebrated their farewell with palm leaves and olive branches.
It was mentioned neither in resources, nor in ancient and modern references the return journey and the track used by the Holy Family in their return to Palestine. But it is presumed that the Holy Family returned from Asyuit, deviating slightly towards Gebel Durunka (50km south Monastery of Al-Muharraq).
Eventually, they arrived at Old Cairo, then Matariyah, and on to Mahamma, retracing more or less their steps on their outward journey across Sinai to Palestine. They had covered more than 2500 km with primitive transportation resources. It was a journey indescribable agony and anguish which Jesus Christ, His Virgin Mother and Saint Joseph bore with inner joy, and survived, for the sake of mankind.