The word "Egypt" and its derivatives are found in the Bible more than 700 times. The story of the Holy Family's stay in Egypt is preserved in the Gospel of Matthew.
The Magi, who came from the East to worship the King who was born, received a revelation from an angel in a dream and left for their country without revealing to King Herod the whereabouts of the Baby. This infuriated the ruler of Palestine. He gave orders to kill all infants under the age of two in Bethlehem and its environs.
The Lord sent an angel to Joseph, and he informed him in a dream about the danger threatening the Savior. The angel ordered Joseph, taking Mary and the Baby, to flee to Egypt, which had long been considered a place of refuge. The Holy Family stayed in Egypt until Herod's death, and after the accession of Archelaus returned to Palestine, settling in a remote, but safer Galilee.
According to historians, the Holy Family spent about four years in Egypt. The Coptic Church celebrates the day of June 1, when Mary and the Baby and Joseph entered the Egyptian land, today as a holiday. An important part of the veneration of the Holy Family in Egypt is the pilgrimage route "The Way of the Holy Family". The route passes through 25 holy places, where, according to legend, the Holy Family visited, hiding in Egypt from the persecution of Herod. The route has a length of 3,500 kilometers and crosses 11 provinces of the country - from the Nile Delta in the north to Upper Egypt in the south.
The path of the Holy Family begins in Sinai in Faram, on the border with Gaza, where they arrived after fleeing Jerusalem. Farama, or ancient Pelusium, is located at the eastern mouth of the Nile River. Pelusium was once a thriving port city. Nowadays, archaeologists have discovered a Christian church of the first century here.
Ruins of the fortress in Faram Photo: Norbert Schiller/ holyfamilyegypt.com
After Pharma, the Holy Family went to Mostorod, which is located north of Cairo. There today you can see the remains of the cave where the Holy Family stayed. In Tel Basta (a small town near Mostorod), Jesus performed a miracle, causing a water source to appear from the ground. This well has been preserved to this day.
Church of the Holy Theotokos in Mostorod Photo: holyfamilyegypt.com
The third stop was in Sakha, otherwise known as the "Foot of Jesus". In 1984, a stone with the footprint of the baby Jesus was found here. It is believed that Jesus touched a stone and a spring was hammered out of the stone. The next important stop on the way is considered to be Wadi El Natrun. There are four ancient monasteries here (and once there were 50 of them in these places). Coptic frescoes of the early Christian period have been preserved in the monasteries.
Stone with the footprint of the baby Jesus Photo: holyfamilyegypt.com
The fifth main stop was Ain Shams and Matariya, villages near Cairo. There is a famous sycamore tree, known as the Tree of the Virgin Mary. According to legend, the Holy Family hid under it from the too hot sun. There is also a tree that has grown on the spot where Mary poured out some water to wash Jesus.
Mataria. The Tree of the Virgin Mary. Photo: Shangyun shen / holyfamilyegypt.com
The next point was Old Cairo, where the Holy Family took refuge in a cave. The church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus (Abu Serga) was later built over the cave.
Abu Serga Church, interior. Photo: Shangyun Shen / holyfamilyegypt.com
After leaving Babylon, the Holy Family went to the port of Maadi to reach southern Egypt. The Church of the Virgin Mary is now located in Maadi - it stands on the banks of the Nile, where they boarded the ship.
Church of the Virgin Mary in Maadi Photo: Norbert Schiller/ holyfamilyegypt.com
The sailboat arrived at the harbor of Deir el-Garnous, where the Holy Family stayed for a short time, and then went to Gabal Al-Teir. There they found refuge in a shaded cave, where a monastery was later built in honor of the Virgin Mary. Not far from the town of Gabal-el-Teir, a laurel tree has been preserved, which worshiped Jesus Christ when He passed by. Its withered trunk has survived to this day, and all its branches have remained tilted down.
Gabal Al-Teir. Photo: Norbert Schiller/ holyfamilyegypt.com
The Holy Family continued to go south, not stopping for a long time anywhere, they were not found by the servants of King Herod. The next big stop was at the foot of Mount Koskam in Upper Egypt, where the monastery of El-Muharrak is now located. In this area, Joseph built a small house made of palm trees and clay. The Holy Family lived there for six months.
After the death of King Herod, an angel appeared to Joseph again and said that the danger was over and they could return home. Before returning to Palestine, the Holy Family stayed in Assiut. Now there, in the town of Durunka, is a famous monastery, where the feast of the Virgin Mary is celebrated annually in August.
The Feast of the Virgin Mary in Durunka. Photo: landioustravel.com
Two main holidays of the Coptic Church are connected with the veneration of the Holy Family in Egypt. The first is on June 1, when, according to legend, the Holy Family crossed the border of Egypt, the second is the Nativity of the Virgin, which in the Coptic tradition is celebrated on May 9. This is due to the fact that the Nativity of the Virgin began to be celebrated everywhere after the V century. Coptic Christians did not accept the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon and fell away from the Church earlier, and the decision on the date of the holiday was made independently of the entire Christian world.
In the calendar of the Coptic Church, the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos continues with a 33-day celebration called "The Seed of Jacob". In addition, every first day of the new month is dedicated to the memory of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos. Thus, the celebrations in honor of the Most Holy Theotokos continue from May to August. During these holidays, thousands of religious processions are held in different cities, people sing special songs, prepare special festive dishes.
In December 2022, Coptic holidays in honor of the Holy Family were included in the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. These holidays "create a single social and cultural fabric between Coptic Christians and Muslims, who make up the majority of the population in Egypt," is how the UNESCO commission explained its decision.