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Holy Family

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After their short 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, then the capital of Egypt. At Maadi, 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 also known as 'Al-Adaweya', the Virgin's Church 'of the Ferry'. (In fact, the name of the modern suburb, Maadi, derives from the Arabic word meaning 'the Crossing Point').

The Holy Bible - Virgin Mary Church - Maadi

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 importance occurred on Friday the 3rd of the Coptic month of Baramhat - 12 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 'Blessed be Egypt My People'. The Bible is now found in the Sanctuary of the Virgin.


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 Virgin, a deep well is believed to have provided the Holy Family with the water they needed.


They went 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 stands some 17kms west of the town of Beni Mazar.


Al-Abed (the Worshipper's) Tree - nazlet Ebeid - Minia

They travelled south from Bahnassa to Samalout and crossed the Nile 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 Meadeyat Beni Khaled. It is known by the 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.

When they resumed their travels, the Holy Family passed a laurel tree south of Gabal El-Tair, along the pathway flanking the Nile and leading from the Mountain to Nazlet Ebeid and the new Minia Bridge. It is claimed that this tree bowed to worship the Lord Christ 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. The tree is called Al Abed - "The Worshipper".


Once more crossing the Nile, back to its west bank, the Holy Family travelled southwards to the town of Al-Ashmounein- or Hermopolis Magna.



Leaving behind them the rubble of fallen idols, they continued in a southerly direction, for another 20 kms to Dairout Al-Sharif (which, like Al-Ashmounein, had an alternative Greek name: Philes); and thence to Qussqam (or Qost-Qoussia).

The Crypt of Virgin Mary Church - Gabal El-Tair - Samalout

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 Qussqam, and Coptic tradition asserts that the ruin that befell the town was the consequence of its violent rejection of the gentle visitors.

This contrasts with the warm welcome the holy refugees met at their next stop Meir (or Meira) only 7 kms west of Qoussia. Here, they found consideration and hospitality wherever they went, for which treatment the town and its people were blessed.


Now it was time for the Holy Family to set out for what is, the most meaningful destination of all in the land of Egypt, the place where there would be 'an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt'. Gabal (Mount) Qussqam, which takes its name from the town nearby , is 327 kms south of Cairo, and stands in the Governorate of Assiut. The Monastery of Al-Moharraq 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 altar of the Church of Virgin Mary, built at the western end 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.

It was here, at the very spot where Al-Muharraq Monastery stands, that the Angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, and said "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" (Matthew 2:20 & 21).


They then 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 in the Christian era by the building of the Mountain-top Monastery of Dronka.

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.

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 fulness of time, be heard.

Chrismatories at the Monastery

The whole journey, from the initial flight from Bethlehem to the return to Nazareth lasted over three years, and covered 200kms. Their means of transport was a weak beast of burden and the occasional sail-boat on the Nile. But for most of the way, the delicate Mother and the rugged old Carpenter must have trudged on foot, enduring the fierce summer heat and the biting winter's cold, suffer hunger and thirst. It was a jouney of indescribable agony and anguish which the Child Jesus, His Virgin Mother and Saint Joseph bore with inner joy, and survived for the sake of mankind.

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