The flight of Jesus Christ and the Holy Family into Egypt is one of the most remarkable events that have taken place on the precious land of Egypt throughout its long history. With the spirit of prophecy, according to Hosea, Jesus Christ fled from Bethlehem, where he could not find a safe residence, seeking refuge in Egypt and engraving his love in the hearts of the illiterate, hence the prophecy said "and out of Egypt I called My Son".
The Holy Journey is described by the prophet Isaiah in his Evangelical Revelation. "Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them" (Isaiah 19:1). That’s exactly what happened: the moment Jesus Christ entered Egyptian cities the idols would crumble and fall into pieces inside the temples. The strange, uncommon occurrence was spreading dismay and fear among the locals.
Jesus Christ's flight into Egypt blessed its land and people, as the Lord said "Blessed be Egypt my people" (Isaiah 19:25). Isaiah's prophecy, saying "shall there 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), was also fulfilled. The altar in the Virgin Mary's ancient church in Al-Muharraq Monastery, located in exact geographical center of Egypt, became a bed for Infant Jesus. The pillar by its border, the throne of St. Mark the Apostle, the preacher of Egypt, is the pillar seated firmly in Alexandria on the northern Egyptian border and the core of its apostolic church. Jesus Christ's flight into Egypt is the real event that led to the coming of St. Mark the Apostle to Egypt and the construction of the Church of Alexandria.
Christianity reached Egypt, making its population religious, spiritual and devout worshipers with full knowledge of the Lord; and the number of churches in Egypt has grown since, particularly in the places visited and blessed by the Holy Family. This fulfilled another prophecy: "the Lord will be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day and will make sacrifice and offering".
The Holy Family enters Egypt
Saint Joseph departed from the land of Palestine as ordered by His angel, accompanied by the Blessed Virgin Mary riding a donkey with Baby Jesus in her arms. All eastern and western accounts have unanimously confirmed that Virgin Mary rode a donkey while Joseph walked alongside holding a leash to steer the donkey as it was accustomed in the Levant.
The Holy Family's flight into Egypt was not easy, but rather an arduous journey full of pain and hardships. They faced many dangers with the ravenous beasts threatening their lives while traveling in the wild and through the desert, where people used to travel in groups to survive.
According to Coptic historical resources, most notably the Homily of Pope Theophilus, 23rd Pope of Alexandria (384-412 AD), there were three routes that travelers could follow to reach Egypt from Palestine. In order to flee from King Herod the Holy Family had to take the less-trodden path, guided by the Lord and His Angel. This road is mentioned in the Coptic Synaxarium in light of Pope Theophilus' vision chronicled in his famous Homily.
The Holy Family in Zaraniq and Farma
The Holy Family proceeded from Bethlehem to Gaza and reached Zaraniq Protected Area (Floussiat), which lies 37 kilometers to the west of Arish. The next day they entered Egypt from the north through Farma (Pelusium) located between Arish and present-day Port Said city.
The Holy Family's arrival at Basta
The Holy Family arrived at Tell Basta (Basta) near Zagazig in the Sharqiya Governorate, which is about 100 kilometers northeast of Cairo. There was no well in the town, and Jesus Christ caused water to gush out the earth; the idols of Basta crumbled to the ground upon the Savior’s appearance, so the local dwellers mistreated the Holy Family, forcing them to leave and head southward.
The Holy Family in Mostorod
The Holy Family departed from Basta and headed southward until reached the town of Mostorod (Al Mahamma), about 10 kilometers away from Cairo.
“Al Mahamma” means “the bathing place”. The name was given to the town because the Virgin Mary bathed Jesus there and washed His clothes. The Holy Family passed again through the town during its return journey. On the way back Jesus caused another spring to gush forth in Mostorod, and this spring exists nowadays.
The Holy Family in Belbeis
From Mostorod the Holy Family continued on their journey to the eastern town of Belbeis in Sharqiya Governorate; the town is at a distance of about 55 kilometers from Cairo. The Holy Family rested there in the shade of a tree, which came to be called the “Virgin Mary's Tree”. The town was again passed through by the Holy Family on their way back to Palestine.
The Holy Family in Samanoud
The Holy Family went from Belbeis to the northern town of Meniet Samanoud (Meniet Genah). From there they crossed the Nile River to Samanoud (Jemnoty) in the Delta. The local residents were welcoming and hospitable, so they were blessed by Jesus.
There is a large granite trough in the town; it’s believed that the trough has been used by the Virgin Mary for kneading dough during her stay. They say, the water well of the town was hallowed by the Christ.
The Holy Family in Sakha
The Holy Family journeyed northwest until they reached Sakha. Here they remained for a couple of days.
The Coptic name of Sakha is “Pekha Issous” meaning “The Foot of Jesus”. In the town of Sakha Infant Jesus Christ touched a rock, leaving his footprint on it. The stone remained hidden for a long time for fear of looting throughout some centuries, and it was rediscovered in 1986.
On their way to Sakha they should have passed by many towns and cities located in the governorates of Gharbia and Kafr el-Sheikh and probably Belqas wastelands.
The Holy Family in Wadi El Natrun
Before reaching Natrun Valley the Holy Family passed through the spring of Al-Humra, where the Infant Jesus caused a water spring to well up from the ground. The well is called “Beer Mariam”, which means “Mary’s well”.
The Holy Family then crossed the Rosetta branch of the Nile River to the western delta and headed south into Wadi El Natrun (ancient Al Asqeet) blessed by Jesus Christ and his mother Virgin Mary.
The desert around the valley gradually filled with monastic settlements and monasteries.
The Holy Family in Matariyah, Ain Shams and Zaytoun
The Holy Family crossed the Nile River heading to Matariyah and Ain Shams (ancient Heliopolis, where the world oldest university appeared).
At that time, Ain Shams was inhabited by a large number of Jews, and they had a temple called the Synagogue of Unias. The Holy Family was welcomed in the Jewish settlement, where they stayed for half a year.
In Matariyah the Holy Family rested in the shade of a tree still known to this day as Mary's tree, and Jesus caused water to flow from a spring, which he blessed and drank from.
Afterwards, the Virgin Mary washed Baby Jesus' clothes and poured the water on the ground, and then an aromatic plant with a beautiful fragrance blossomed; it’s known as balsam plant, which is used in the preparation of the scents and perfumes of which the holy Chrism consists.
The Holy Family set out from Matariyah and Ain Shams and headed towards Old Cairo, and they stayed a while in Zaytoun on their way to there.
The Holy Family in Central Cairo and Old Cairo
On the Holy Family’s trace along Cairo a number of churches appeared.
Churches in Central Cairo:
· The ancient Church of the Virgin Mary in Zuwayla lane;
· The Church of Mar Girgis, or St. George the Martyr;
· The Church of St. Mercurius Abu Sayfayn;
· The Convent of Nuns of the Holy Virgin Mary;
· The Mar Girgis Convent.
Churches in Clot Bey District:
· The Cathedral of St Mark in Azbakieh;
· The headquarters of various monasteries and churches.
The Holy Family reached Old Cairo, which is among the most important areas visited by the Holy Family during their flight into Egypt, as it is home to numerous churches and monasteries, and has been blessed by the Holy Family's arrival. Their stay in Old Cairo was brief as the crumbling of idols enraged the governor of Fustat, who sought to kill Baby Jesus. Therefore, the Holy Family fled to a cave inside St. Sergius Church, which is considered to be one of the most significant locations of the Holy Family in Old Cairo.
Churches in Babylon Fortress, Old Cairo:
· The Church of St. Sergius (Abu Serget);
· The famous Hanging Church of Virgin Mary;
· The Church of St. Barbara;
· The Church of St. George's (in the Palace of Wax);
· The Church of the Virgin, known by its alternative name of Qasriet Al-Rihan;
· Mar Girgis Convent;
· Fortress of Babylon and the Coptic Museum;
· The Roman Church of St. George;
· Ben Ezra Synagogue.
Churches in Fustat, Old Cairo:
· The Church of St. Mercurius Abu Sayfayn (he of the Two Swords);
· The Church of Abba Shenouda;
· The Church of the Virgin Mary of Al-Demshiria;
· Abu Sayfayn Convent;
· Virgin Mary Church of Babylon El Darag;
· The Church of Prince Tadros Al Mishriqi;
· The Church of the Archangel Michael, also known as the Monastery of Al Malak AI-Qibli;
· The Church of St. Menas in Zahraa Misr El Kadima;
· St. Abaker and St. John Churches.
The Holy Family in Maadi
The Holy Family moved from Old Cairo southward until they arrived at Maadi – a suburb of Memphis, the capital of ancient Egypt.
The Holy Family boarded a sailing boat heading up the Nile River towards Upper Egypt; they embarked from where Virgin’s Church of the Ferry (El-Adaweya) is now seated. The church bears that name as a reference to the "ferry" the Holy Family used to sail the Nile towards Upper Egypt, and from which the name “Maadi” was derived. It’s commonly believed that the stone steps used by the Holy Family to get down to the Nile's bank still exist and have a shrine that is accessible through the Church's courtyard.
The church witnessed some inexplicable events, as what happened on Friday the 3rd of the Coptic month of Baramhat, 1976, when a version of the Holy Bible was found afloat on the surface of the Nile water below the church, and it was open to the chapter of Isaiah's revelation 19:25 declaring, "Blessed be Egypt my people".
The Holy Family in Deir Al-Garnous and Al Bahnassa
The Holy Family docked at the village of Deir Al-Garnous 10 kilometers west of Ashnein el Nassara, Maghagha. A deep well believed to have been used by the Holy Family still can be found outside the western wall of the Church of the Virgin.
After a day-long rest in Al-Garnous Monastery the Holy Family entered Abai Issous (“The Home of Jesus”) present-day Sandafa village, situated on the east of Al-Bahnassa and 17 kilometers west of Beni Mazar.
The Holy Family in Jabal Al-Tair
The Holy Family traveled from Bahnassa to the southern town of Samalout; they had to cross the Nile again to the east bank, where the Monastery of the Virgin now stands upon the “Bird Mountain” – Jabal Al-Tair, which got its name for the fact of attracting thousand birds around it. For more than a year the Holy Family lived in the cave, which later became a part of an ancient church.
It was here the Holy Family eventually found peace and safe shelter. According to Coptic sources, during their stay in the cave a huge rock was about to fall upon them when Jesus Christ stretched his hand to hold it back. The imprint of His little palm is still visible on the stone. Since then the mountain was also called “Gabal El-Kaf,” meaning “Palm Mountain.”
The Worshiper tree
Another miracle happened, when the Holy Family passed a high laurel tree 2 kilometers south of Jabal Al-Tair. It is claimed that this tree bowed to Christ, and its shape proves this – all its branches, indeed, incline towards the ground, then its green leaves turn upwards again. Since then the tree is called Al Abed or “The Worshipper”.
The Holy Family heads to the south
The Holy Family left Jabal al-Tair and crossed the Nile to the western bank one more time, reaching the town of Nazet Ebeid. A few days later they decided to move on to Al-Ashmounein (ancient Hermopolis Magma), which witnessed many miracles, including the crumble of its idols. However, the miracles made the townspeople angry and the Holy Family was forced to leave Al-Ashmounein, heading to Mallawy (ancient Manlau). Later the Monastery of the Angel – Deir Al-Malak – was built there.
In two days the Holy Family reached the town of Kenis, the present-day Dairout AI-Sharif. The inhabitants of this town were very charitable, and the Holy Family remained there for a couple of days, and Jesus wrought innumerable miracles there. The idols of the town as well were smashed into pieces.
The Holy Family in Qussqam and Meir
From Dairout Al-Sharif, the rout of the Holy Family laid to Qussqam (Qost-Qusiya), where the local idol fell and turned to rubble. Locals pursued the Holy Family with rods and axes, making them expel the town, ruined afterwards for its violent rejection of the Holy Family.
People of Meir (Meira) 7 kilometers west of Qusiya, however, treated the Holy Family kindly and were blessed by both, Jesus and Mary.
The Holy Family at Mount Qussqam
Nevertheless Joseph decided not to stop in Meir for long – it seemed important to him to reach Gabal Mount Qussqam “in the midst of the land of Egypt” where the “altar to the Lord” would be. Halfway up the mountain the Holy Family found a large cave, a spring and wild olive trees nearby, so they stayed here about six months and ten days.
Against the western foothills of the mountain nestles the Monastery of Al-Muharraq (Assiut Governorate, 327 kilometers south of Cairo). Later in the western side of the monastery at the place of the cave the Holy Family dwelt the Church of the Virgin Mary was built. The altar of this church consists of a large stone – the resting place of Baby Jesus.
It was the very cave where the Lord's Angel came to Saint Joseph in a dream, telling 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&21).
The Return to Palestine
On their way back the Holy Family took another route steered them slightly towards the south to Mount Assiut (Jabel Dronka), which they blessed and where a monastery was built in the name of the Virgin Mary about 8 kilometers southwest of Assiut.
They arrived at Old Cairo, then at Matariyah, Mahamma, then Sinai and finally reached Palestine, where St. Joseph and the Holy Family lived in the village of Nazareth in Galilee.
Thus, this rough journey ended after more than 3 years to and fro. They traveled across over 2000 kilometers with the occasional sailboat on the Nile being their only means of transportation; this shows that the Holy Family traveled on foot most of their way, bearing the fatigue emanating from walking, summer heat, winter cold, hunger and thirst – all while being hunted down wherever they go. Their journey was arduous in every sense of the word, but Baby Jesus bore all hardships alongside His mother and Saint Joseph with joy for our sake.
“Blessed be Egypt My People”
"Rejoice oh Egypt, oh, people of Egypt and all ye children of Egypt who live within its borders, rejoice and lift up your hearts, for the lover of all mankind, He who has been before the beginning of the ages, has come to you" is the Doxology recited on the 24th of the Coptic month of Bashans, which corresponds to the 1st of June, when the Coptic Church celebrates the entry of Jesus Christ into the land of Egypt.