Father Abanoub of the Samannud church at the sacred well – Mahmoud Fakhry Father Abanoub of the Samannud church at the sacred well – Mahmoud Fakhry

Ep. 4: Holy Family embraced in Sebennytos, leaves kneading trough

Mon, Oct. 30, 2017
GHARBIA, Egypt – 30 October 2017: After having lived for about two months in Musturud, the Holy Family headed north towards the Nile Delta to reach Sebennytos, now known as Samannud, where the farmers accommodated and protected the strangers after a harsh encounter with the people of Bubastis.

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Edited map of the route of the Holy Family in Egypt – Egypt Tourism Authority

We arrived at the ancient Virgin Mary Church, also known as St. Abanoub, in the heart of a busy marketplace.

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Virgin Mary Church in Sammanud – Mahmoud Fakhry

Sebennytos, which is now part of Gharbia governorate, was the seat of the 30th Egyptian Dynasty. The Holy Family is believed to have stayed in the town for 17 days.

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Wall-reliefs of Nectanebo II (left) and of Nectanebo I (right) 30th Dynasty in the Egyptian Museum of Cairo in 2005, originally from Sebennytos – Neithsabes via Wikimedia Commons

Wooden benches and a marble board that reads “This is the bowl in which Virgin Mary kneaded her dough” were placed in the church’s main yard.

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Wooden benches in the Sammanud church – Mahmoud Fakhry

The bowl was placed in the outer yard of the church on a marble pole and was enclosed in a glass case.

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The kneading trough in which Virgin Mary is believed to have kneaded dough in Sammanud church – Mahmoud Fakhry

Visitors sitting in the church yard were mostly young directors of the church services or servants who were waiting for a meeting or who had just finished praying. Hymns from inside the church could be heard in the yard, where children were playing. Meanwhile, a deacon wearing a white tunic with red stripes was singing a Coptic melody.

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A corridor in the Virgin Mary Church of Sammanud – Mahmoud Fakhry

The wooden door of the church looked old and was decorated with small crosses all over, and on the opposite side we saw the altar and iconostas of the old church. As people prayed, we heard a lot of “have mercy on us” from worshippers.

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A woman and a man at a door inside the church of Sammanud – Mahmoud Fakhry

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Children in front of an icon of Virgin Mary and Child Christ in the church of Samannud – Mahmoud Fakhry

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Elderly women at the church of Samanud – Mahmoud Fakhry

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Icons at the church of Samannud – Mahmoud Fakhry

Father Abanoub, Archpriest of Virgin Mary Church, had been busy in the Sunday mass prayer. The church was completely full, and we arrived towards the end of the mass in time for the Eucharistic meal.

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Worshippers lighting candles at the church of Samannud – Mahmoud Fakhry

The priest and his assistant stood in the middle in front of the altar, one of them was carrying the bread, the other the wine, whereas women who covered their hair with small head scarves walked forward to receive the Eucharistic meal, i.e. the body of Christ – or the sacrifice, symbolized by the bread, and his blood, symbolized by the wine.

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Local worshippers at the Samannud church – Mahmoud Fakhry

This ritual is known as the Eucharistic secret, and is one of the seven secrets of the Coptic Church. The mass ended and the crowd dispersed, and some of the visitors made their way to the well, which stretches 52 meters to the ground.

We followed one of the church servants who lead us to the well, which he said was struck open by Jesus during his 17-day stay in Sebennytos, in the same spot on which the church was later built.

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Father Abanoub of the Samannud church at the sacred well – Mahmoud Fakhry

The well largely resembled the one in Musturud. Jesus struck the ground and wells have since flown from where his feet landed. We drew close to the well only to find that it had been closed by a metal lock, and that small taps branched out of it so that the church can serve the well’s water to Muslim and Coptic visitors.

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The well believed to have been struck open by Christ at Samannud church – Mahmoud Fakhry

“The Holy Family received great welcoming and warm greeting here,” said Father Abanoub, “and this warm reception was given to them because Jesus used his gift of bringing the dead back to life. As Jesus took his steps into the city, he saw a dead man and brought him back to life, so the people of the city were pleased and gave Mary a large marble kneading trough in which she kneaded bread for her son, her fiancé and for Salome, their old companion.”

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A woman drinking from well’s water from a tap at Samannud church – Mahmoud Fakhry

“The church was able to keep the kneading trough safe to this day,” added Father Abanoub as he walked towards the glass-encased bowl, and then he proceeded to tell the story of the church which dates back to the fifth century A.D. and was built in the place of an older church. He noted that the altar and iconostas are ancient monuments and date back to 550 A.D.

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An ancient bell at Samannud church – Mahmoud Fakhry

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Ostrich eggs at Samannud Church – Mahmoud Fakhry 16 – An ancient bell at Samannud church – Mahmoud Fakhry

The church holds the remains of St. Abanoub, a 12-year old boy who was tortured to death by the Romans in Egypt, as well as 8,000 Egyptians who were killed by the Romans for converting to Christianity. According to Father Abanoub, they were killed in one day.

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The pulpit at Samannud church – Mahmoud Fakhry

The next episode would be in Xois, the modern-day Sakha town of Kafr el-Sheikh governorate, which was once an island surrounded by the Sebennytic and Phatnitic branches of the ancient River Nile. Neither Sebennytos nor Xois are included in the eight locations in Egypt which the Vatican has recently announced as official Christian pilgrimage sites.

Translated by Heba Fadel
Additional reporting by Hanan Fayed

EP. 3: Holy family in Egypt – Mary bathes Christ in Musturud



Ep. 2: Holy Family in Egypt’s ‘cat house’ met with grain of salt



Ep. 1: Holy Family in Egypt - Pelusium ruins reveal war-torn past



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