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Holy Family

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An icon at Virgin Mary Church - Zeitoun

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 'On' since earliest Pharaonic times). Both these adjacent districts are outlying suburbs of present day Cairo, only about 10 kms from the city centre.

At the time of the Holy Family's arrival, Ain Shams was home to a large Jewish community, which had erected the Synagogue of Unias for their worship. In Matariyah, a tree still stands to this day, 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.

On their way to Old Cairo, the Holy Family rested for a while in Zeitoun. The Holy Family then proceeded along a course which traverses what are now crowded, bustling quarters of Cairo, within which the serene landmarks of an earlier Coptic heritage still stand, marking the paths the Holy Family followed.


Central Cairo

  • The Church of the Virgin Mary in Zuweila Alley.
  • The Church of St George the Martyr.
  • The Church of St Mercurios Abu Sefein (he of the Two Swords).
  • The Convent of the Virgin Mary.
  • The Convent of St George.

Down-town district of Clot Bey

  • The Cathedral of St Mark in Azbekieh.



  • Numerous churches attached to the Cairo headquarters of many of Egypt's monasteries.
  • The Church of the Virgin Mary (known as Ezbaweya).

The area now called Old Cairo, known as Misr El Kadima, is among the most important locations visited by the Holy Family where the spiritual impact of their presence is still felt. Their stay here 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.

They took shelter from his wrath in a cave above which, in 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.

The following is a list of the sites visitors to the Fortress of Babylon section of Old Cairo visit:

  • The Church of Abu Serga and the Crypt of the Holy Family beneath it.
  • Al- Muallaqa (Hanging Church) dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Patriarchal See of the Coptic Church in the early centuries.
  • The Church of St Barbara.
  • The Chuch of St George (in the Palace of Waxworks).
  • The Church of the Virgin, identified by its alternative name of Qasriet Al-Rihan.
  • The Convent of St George.
  • The Coptic Museum and the ramparts of the Fortress of Babylon.
  • The Greek Orthodox Church of St George.
  • The Jewish Synagogue of Ben Ezra.

Virgin Mary Church (Qasriet Al Rihan)

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 Church of Abba Shenouda.
  • The Church of the Virgin Mary of Al-Demshiria.
  • The Convent of Abu Sefein.
  • The Church of the Virgin of Babylon El Darag.
  • The Church of Saints Abakir and Yohanna.
  • The Church of Prince Tadros Al Mishriqi.
  • The Church of the Archangel Mikhail (known also as Al-Malak Al-Qibili - or 'Southern Angel')
  • The Church of St Mena in Zahraa - Misr El Kadima.

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