The flight of the Holy Family to Egypt is a journey that distinguished our homeland, and granted it blessing that no other country has ever had. Through this journey, Egypt has become a second home for Lord Christ as He lived here. The coming of Saint Virgin Mary carrying Baby Jesus, accompanied by the righteous Joseph the Carpenter and the righteous Salome, is considered one of the most important events recorded in the pages of Egyptian history.
Egypt, a Country of Blessings
Since the dawn of human history, Egypt has always occupied a very special status; it is the country of blessings as it had been the resort to God’s prophets. Abraham, the friend of God sought refuge in it, the prophet of God Jacob as well as his children came here. Joseph the righteous lived here as he became the second to Pharaoh. In Egypt, Prophet Moses, the converser with God, was born and learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians. From Egypt, King Solomon, the wisest among the Earth’s kings, took a wife; the daughter of Pharaoh. Egypt is the only country which received Lord Christ and His mother Saint Virgin Mary; they lived among its suburbs and cities with Joseph the Carpenter. Hence, the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt has become a historic event witnessed by the Egyptian lands, recorded on the pages of human history, turning Egypt to a country of blessings, fulfilling the prophecy: “Blessed is Egypt My people”. Egypt, as well as its people, has always been a distinctive landmark in history, civilizations and religions; it is the country of goodness, blessing, love, peace and safety.
The flight of the Holy Family to Egypt was neither strange nor all of a sudden; as a number of the Old Testament Prophets referred in their prophecies in the Holy Bible to this journey. The prophecy of Prophet Isaiah reads: “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), Prophet Hosea also stated it: “Out of Egypt I called My son” (Hosea 11: 1). Prophet Isaiah elaborated that there would be a church in the midst of the land of Egypt, saying: “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). This prophecy was fulfilled through the Monumental Church of Saint Virgin Mary at the Monastery of Al-Muharraq, Assiut, which indeed is located in the midst of the land of Egypt. It is known that the Holy Family lived in that place for more than six months, with its roof being the stone over which Baby Jesus lied sleeping. As for the pillar at Egypt’s borders, this is the chair of Saint Mark the Apostle, the Evangelist of Egypt, located in Alexandria where he founded the Apostolic Church.
The journey of the Holy Family began when God sent an angel to the righteous Joseph the Carpenter in a dream, warning him of King Herod’s attempt to kill the newborn Child, after secretly meeting with the Magi and asking them to tell him his whereabouts, telling him:“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 to destroy Him.” (Matthew 2: 13)
Joseph the carpenter did not hesitate, but hurriedly took the Child and His mother, fleeing to the land of Egypt at night. All Eastern and Western traditions agreed that Saint Virgin Mary rode a donkey, carrying Baby Jesus in her arms, while Joseph the Carpenter walked next to the donkey, holding its leash, according to the customs followed in the East.
A Rocky Path
The path of the Holy Family was not easy, but it was a long and arduous one, full of pains and hardships. They walked through deserts, hills and valleys, facing many dangers, ranging from fierce beasts, thieves, bandits, blazing sun, severe cold, climatic fluctuations, and the danger of running out of food and water. A small family in the face of dangers of travel and dangers of the king’s soldiers – at a time when journeys were held in groups to protect one another; All risks weakened the possibilities of that Family’s survival. In addition, They faced the dangers of crossing the then seven branches of the Nile River.
It is reported that the Holy Family did not take one of the three routes known to the trade caravans and travel trips at that time, in order to escape the evil of Herod, who sent his spies to track Them down and arrest the Boy to destroy Him. As soon as the news of the Holy Family’s escape reached Herod, he quickly sent his spies -said to be ten soldiers- to chaseThem, he ordered them to search for the Boy and bring Him alive for Herod to kill Him! However, they couldn’t findHim. For that, the Holy Family took another path, away from the ones known at the time; They moved across all Egypt, from north to south to east to west, trying to escape from the king’s spies.
The Path of the Flight
The journey of the Holy Family began from Bethlehem in Palestine to Gaza, to the Mahmiyat Al-Zaraniq (Al-Felosiyat), thirty-seven kilometers west of Al-Arish; Theyentered the land of Egypt through the north of Sinai from Al-Farama, which is located between the cities of Al-Arish and Port Said. So, Al-Farama was Their gateway to Egypt. In his book, Monk Bernard mentioned that in 870 AD, he saw a church in Al-Farama, consecrated in the name of Saint Virgin Mary as a memorial to the Familypassing there. The Holy Family resided for a few days in Al-Farama, then moved towards the east of the Delta.
The Family arrived at Tal Basta near Zagazig city in Al-Sharqiya governorate at noon, so Theytook refuge under a tree. Meanwhile, Baby Jesus got thirsty, so Saint Virgin Mary asked the residents of the city for some water, but they refused! So the Boy sourced a spring of water and blessed it. The idols were smashed when the Boy entered the city: while the Holy Family was in Tal Basta, a mannamed Qaloum passed by and invited Them to his house, and generously hosted them, soChild Jesus blessed his house. Something strange took place at the arrival of the Holy Family at the house of Qaloum, the man apologized for Saint Virgin Mary for his wife had been sick and bed-ridden for three years, and that she would not be able to welcome her and her Family, but Child Jesus said to Qaloum: “Now, Sarah, your wife will no longer be sick!” Instantly, Sarah rose and walked towards the door, welcoming the Boy, His mother, Saint Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph the Carpenter, and Saint Salome, and asked them to stay for a longer period, as the presence of the Boy bestowed blessings upon her house! However, the presence of Saint Virgin Mary and her Child caused the fall of the huge granite statues of the idols! This incident spread across the town untilthe governor heard about it and started investigations until he knew the reason; a woman was there carrying a little Child, who probably is that holy Child for whom Herod was searching. So, he ordered to search for the Boy everywhere in the city. Qaloumknew about all the arrangements planned by the authorities to arrest the Boy who blessed his house and healed his wife. So he hurried to alert the Holy Family, advising them to flee the city at night.
The Family headed southwards to Mostorod and lived in a grotto there. There, the Boy sourced a spring of water that is still there till this day, where He washed and bathed with its water, so the place is called (Al-Mahamma) (the bathing place), the water of the spring healed whoever used it. Later on, a church was built in the name of Saint Virgin Mary in Mostorod.
From Mostorod, the Family headed north towards the east, arrived at Belbeis in Al-Sharqiya Governorate. The people of Belbeis welcomed the Holy Family and generously hosted Them – reportedly, it was the first country to welcome Them. The Family there took shelter under a tree that was later called Saint Virgin Mary’s Tree. One story mention that Napoleon’s soldiers were passing by Belbeis when they decided to prepare their food, so they began cutting some wood from that tree using axe, but they were terrified seeing the tree bleeding! They trembled with fear and could not approach the tree.
MinyatGanah (MinyatSamanoud) (Daqadous)
Leaving Belbeis, the Holy Family moved northwards and passed by the current city of Zagazig, then They continued to MinyatSamanoud (MinyatGanah), passing by Daqadous city currently where a church of Saint Virgin Mary is located, where a well is found there from which the Holy Family drank.
The Holy Family crossed the Nile to Samanoud in the Delta, northeast Al-Gharbiya governorate on the banks of Damietta branch, the Holy Family was received warmly there, so Saint Virgin Mary asked her Son to bless the city and its people, He replied informing her that a church would be built there and named after her, and this indeed happened later. It is said that Saint Virgin Mary kneaded in a large granite pot that still exists. Also, there is a well of water that Child Jesus himself blessed.
From the city of Samanoud, the Holy Family traveled to the Burullus region in the north of the Delta, towards a village calledShagarat Al-Tin (the Fig Tree), and then the village of Al-Mutla’ (or Al-Dela’), where a village man hosted Them. Child Jesus prophesied then about having a church built there, which actually happened later. On the way from Samanoud to Sakha, the Holy Family passed by a large number of cities in the governorates of Al-Gharbiya and Kafr El-Sheikh, as well as the wilderness of Belqas.
The Holy Family arrived at Sakhacity, Kafr El-Sheikh governorate, which is one of the important stations inTheir journey; a base stone of a column, on which the footprints of Child Jesus were imprinted after He stood over it is still there today. That area has been called “BikhaIsos”, meaning “Jesus’ heel”! The stone was hidden for a long time lest it should be stolen, yet it was discovered on 27/9/1984 when the altar was being restored. The Boy also sourced a spring of water for the Holy Family to drink from.
The Holy Family blessed the region of Marioutduring moving from Sakha to Wadi al-Natron. In an interesting research, Father Raphael Ava Minastates that there was no direct routefrom Sakha toWadi al-Natron, but rather vast deserts and lakes, so the Holy Family pursued an ancient route that crossed one of the then seven branches of the Nile. That branch drained into Lake Mariout, where the Holy Family arrived at a port whose remains still exist. From this port, They moved to the city of Maria which overlooks the lake, and then to the ancient city of Mariout, which is called the city of Pomina – meaning the city of Saint Mina, where the martyr Saint Mina the Wonderworker was buried – which was the crossroads of ancient roads from the south to the north of the valley. Until recent time, this road has been well known to the travelers as it linked Wadi El-Natron with the ancient city of Saint Mina. The monks of Wadi El-Natron used this road when visiting that area: “Bishop Theophilus, the Head of Al-Soryan Monastery, used to walk along this road from Wadi El-Natron to Saint Mina’s area, crossing the dessert through a road known to all desert dwellers, of approximately seventy kilometers long (this is other than the current desert road of nearly one hundred and twenty kilometers connecting Wadi El-Natron with the Pomina area). This road remained known to the monks, and the cars of the Border Guards were traveling safely over it, until the desert was populated, canals and watercourses were established. So, this road, which had been used by whoever desiredto cross to the north towards Libya, was shut down”. Thus, the Holy Family moved from Sakha to Lake Mariout, then to the ancient city of Pomina, then to Wadi El-Natron, passing through that old road, which had been unpaved at the time, passing through the desert to go to Wadi El-Natron.
The Holy Family continued Their journey and again crossed the Nile River (Rosetta Branch) to the west of the Delta, and then moved southwards to Wadi El-Natron (Scetis), passing by the sweet spring of Al-Hamra which had been sourced by Child Jesus, it was called “Mary’s Well”, and it is located in the midst of lakes filled with natron salt. That valley was a barren desert at the time, but Lord Christ blessed it and prophesied about that valley that it would be filled with worshipers of God, monks, hermits, and recluses. Also, He prophesied that the place would be blessed, and would become an attraction for people to take its blessing. Indeed, the prophecy was fulfilled, and its name was called “Wildness of Shehet” (Scetis), meaning “the balance of hearts”.
El Mataria and Ain Shams
The Holy Family headed southwards, and crossed the Nile to the eastern side, towards the area of Al-Matareya and Ain Shams.Al-Matareya area is one of the most important areas that the Holy Family passed through, where They was sheltered by a sycamore tree that was later known as SaintMary’s Tree. Child Jesus sourced a spring of water in which Saint Virgin Mary washed His clothes, and poured water on the ground, so elderberry grew. In this area there is a church named after Saint Virgin Mary, a few meters away from Saint Mary’s Tree. When the Holy Family entered the city of Oun (currently Ain Shams), its idols fell and were destroyed.
The Holy Family headed to the Old Cairo region, and on Their way, the Family rested for a while in Al-Zaytoun and Downtown regions. Some historians mention that it contains a well of water from which the Holy Family drank in Haret Al-Roum, then Theypassed through Al-Ezbaweyaarea, which was all fields and had a water well, and now a well-known church called Al-Ezbaweya is located there, it is named after Saint Virgin Mary.
The Holy Family arrived at the area ofOld Cairo, which is a part of RasAl-Delta region, known formerly as Babylon, where a large Jewish community lived. The Holy Family resided in a cave under the Church of the Martyrs Sergius and Bacchus, which was known as Abu Serga Church or The Grotto Church. The Holy Family could not stay there for long because the idols which had been smashed then, that provoked the governor of Fustat, and he sought to kill Child Jesus.
The Holy Family proceeded from Old Cairo towards the south. They reached Al-Maadi (Memphis, the capital of ancient Egypt), south of Cairo on the eastern bank, where They set off in a sailboat heading south towards Upper Egypt. In this location there is currently the Church of Saint Virgin Mary known as Al-Adawiyah; as the Holy Family crossed from there to the Nile on its journey to Upper Egypt, and from it came the name “Al-Maadi” (The crossing places). In the church, there is an archaeological stone staircase directly on the Nile, which is believed to be the site from which the Holy Family traveled in the sailboat to head towards the south. On Friday, March 12, 1972, a large version of the Holy Bible was found in front of the church, floating on the surface of the Nile, open on the page of the verse: “Blessed is Egypt My people.” It has been placed in a glass box near the church’s western door open on that page.
The Holy Family set off from Maadi in a sailboat towards Upper Egypt, and passed by the village of Ashnine al-Nasara, heading to the village of Deir al-Garnous, east of the city of Al-Bahnasa and west of Maghagha, and it is believed that They stayed there for four days. It is mentioned in Futuh al-Sham book that Child Jesus felt thirsty, so Saint Mary held His finger and raised it over the well whose water was very deep,the water rose towards the surface of the well and the whole Holy Family managed to drink from it. There is a church named after Saint Virgin Mary in Deir al-Garnous.
The Holy Family passed through an area called “House of Jesus” to the east of Al-Bahnasa (currently the village of Sandafa in BeniMazar). Al-Bahansa that the Holy Family passed by is located west of the Nile, and was known in the Greek era as “the city of mormyrus” in reference to a type of pointed-mouthed fish that lives in the nearby waters . The city residents considered it a reason of good and blessing, and afterwards they considered the fish besides the cross a symbol for the city. The city contained a large number of churches, in addition to large monastic congregations; Historian Palladius said: “Oxyrhynchus (Al-Bahansa) is the city whose number of churches was greater than the number of its houses.” It was referred to an ancient tree associated with the Holy Family.
From Al-Bahnasa, the Holy Family traveled to the south to the city of Samalut, thenThey crossed the Nile River to the east to Jabal al-Tair, where the Monastery of Saint Virgin Mary at Jabal al-Tairis now located. The monastery contains an ancient grotto where the Holy Family is believed to have resided for three days. This mountain is known as Jabal al-Tair(Mountain of the Birds) because the flocks of “Bookers” bird; a type of the migratory birds, gather on it. Also, it is known as Jabal Al-Kaff (Mountain of the Palm) or Jabal Al-Sakhra (Mountain of the Rock) because during the journey of the Holy Family across the Nile, a huge rock was about to fall on Them, but Child Jesus stretched out His hand and prevented the rock from falling, and his palm was imprinted on it. Queen Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, built a church in that area known as the Church of the Palm or the Church of the Rock, and hence the name extended to the whole mountain.
Some sources mentioned that on the way, the Holy Family passed by a high ficus tree (laurel tree) that was inhabited by Satan and the pagans worshiped it. However, as Christ passed over it, it bowed as if it was prostrating; all its branches descended towards the earth and its green leaves were rising! Afterwards, the bark, leaves and fruits of the tree became of a healing power for diseases. Historian Sozomenos of the fifth century said: “It is said that in Al-Ashmounin, a city in Upper Egypt, there is a tree called Percia, whose fruit, leaves and bark heal the sick. The Egyptians say that when Joseph escaped from Herod, he came with Child Christ and Saint Mary to Al-Ashmounin. Once He approached the door, the tree, despite its height, bowed to the ground to worship the Savior. I tell this about the tree as I have heard it from many.”
From Jabal Al-Tair, the Holy Family travelled to Al-Sheikh Ebada village, Beer Al-Sahaba- Ansena, near the eastern mountain, where Child Jesus sourced a well of pure water, it was called “Beer Al-Sahaba” (The Well of the Cloud) in reference to Saint Virgin Mary, the swift cloud coming to Egypt as came in the prophecy of Prophet 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).
Saint Virgin Mary wanted to water her Child but she found no water around, so the Child blessed the place and sourced a well of pure water. The well still exists, flowing with pure water although the wells around are all salty!
The Holy Family passed by Bani Hassan village in the south, then crossed the Nile River to Al-Rouda westwards to reach Al-Ashmounin. When the Holy Family entered Al-Ashmounin, the idols tottered and fell down, that Palladius the historian and bishop of Helenopolis- who lived back in the fourth century, said that after going to Al-Ashmounin, “We saw there a house of idols where all the idols inside fell to the ground at the entrance of our Savior to the city.” Lord Christ dwelt there for days, performed several miracles and wonders including healing the sick and casting away demons. Al-Ashmounin is connected to Saint Wadamoun of Armentwho was a youth from Arment, he heard about the miracles of Lord Christ made in Ashmounin, so he went there to meet Him. Lord Christ blessed him and prophesied he would be martyred, he was indeed killed by the idol priests who envied him upon his return to Arment.
The Holy Family arrived atDairout Umm Nakhla in the south (a village belonging to the Mallawi district in Al-Minya governorate). As mentioned, it was called so due to the region’s palms (Nakhl) and trees that bowed before Child Jesus when He passed by, it is said that he sourced a spring of fresh water there.
Deir Abu Hennis
On the way to Mallawi, the Holy Family rested for one day on a mound in Deir Abu Hennis on the eastern bank of the Nile. On the southern side of the monastery, Kom Maria is located, it is a large archaeological mound named after SaintVirgin Mary, on which the Holy Family rested during their journey. Then the Holy Family proceeded to TalEl-Amarna.
The Holy Family moved southwards from Tal El-Amarna to the district of DairoutAl-Sharif (a part of Dairout city in Assiut), where the Holy Family resided for a few days, during which ChildJesus performed many miracles, and there is a church named after Saint Virgin Mary.
The Holy Family reached Qusqam village (Qust- Qusiya) at the north of Assiut, it is a different city than the current Al-Qusiya. Reportedly, its residents refused to receive the Holy Family after they had seen the idols being smashed; the city became ruins. Tradition says that the Holy Family dwelt in a grotto in the eastern mountain for ten days.
Leaving Qusqam Al-Qusiya, the Holy Family arrived at Mere city (Meera) at the west of Al-Qusiya, They were welcomed by the people there, and Lord Christ and Saint Virgin Mary blessed them.
The Family moved from Mere to Mount Qusqam, after a long journey full of hardships and troubles, They stayed there for six months and ten days in a grotto. Now, the monastery of Saint Virgin Mary, known as “Monastery of Al-Muharraq” is located, which ancient church’s sanctuary was built in the place of the grotto the Holy Family lived in. The monastery was founded by Saint Pachomius, the Father of Communal Monastic Life. The Holy Family settled there until the angel appeared to Joseph again, 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.” (Matthew 2:20); to return the Holy Family to the land of Palestine.
The Way Back
On Their way back, the Holy Family took another road that veered southwards to the western mount of Assiut, where the village of Durunka is located. They blessed it that now it has a monastery named after Saint Virgin Mary that includes the grotto church. At that time, Assiut was a berth for ships and boats, and perhaps the Holy Family headed therein order to take the boat as a way to return to the north, then to Old Cairo, Al-Mataria, Mostorod, Sinai and then to Palestine in which They returned to the village of Nazareth in the Galilee.
The Journey Duration
In 1998, the University of Cologne, Germany, published an archaeological papyrus written in the Coptic Fayumi dialect, indicating that the duration of the presence of the Holy Family in Egypt was three years and eleven months.
The flight of the Holy Family to Egypt is still– and will remain- a unique historical and religious event, Their path has always been the focus of the entire world’s attention. His Holiness Pope of Vatican considered it a Christian pilgrimage, so the official Vatican program included a visit to the path of the Holy Family. The Egyptian government was also interested in launching a tourism project called “The Holy Family Path”.
We plead for God to protect out Egypt from all evil.
The General Bishop
Head of the Coptic Orthodox Cultural Center