The Holy Family in Egypt – Edwin Long – Wikimedia commons
CAIRO – 5 October 2017: In an initiative that will affect religious tourism to Egypt tremendously, Egyptian Tourism Minister Yehia Rashid is meeting Tourism officials in Rome, with the aim to promote the Holy Family’s Flight into Egypt as an essential part of the Roman Catholic pilgrimage route.
, Pope of the Vatican, as he remembered fondly
, gifted the Egyptian tourism minister with an icon of the Holy Family in Egypt that he had blessed,
in a mass held on Wednesday, embracing the Holy Family's journey through Egypt as an official Christian pilgrimage.
The route of the Holy Family in Egypt - Egyptian Tourism Authority
The journey of the Holy Family took place after King Herod, Ruler of Judea, heard of prophecies by a group of wise men who announced that the next King of Jews is Jesus. Herod the great went on an infanticide in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, killing all male children in hopes of erasing the threat of the child who might later dethrone him. A massacre known today as the Massacre of the Innocents.
Giotto di Bondone - No. 21 Scenes from the Life of Christ - 5. Massacre of the Innocents -The Yorck Project - Wikimedia commons
This led to the beginning of the Holy Family's Flight to Egypt where they would seek safety from the vicious ruler, after an angel warned Joseph the Carpenter in a dream to flee with Virgin Mary and her newborn Jesus. Leaving on a 25-stop-journey through Egypt, leaving a trail which will later on sprout with churches and monasteries. Starting from Gaza to North Sinai then passing through Wadi Al-Arish and Al-Farama (Pelusium) southeast the Nile Delta.
They then stopped at Al-Basta, where, according to Egyptian Travel Authority website, Jesus miraculously caused a water spring to well up from the ground. Moving on to Mostorod, 10 kilometers from Cairo where Virgin Mary bathed newborn Jesus, that is why this place is also known as Mahamaah which means the bathing place in Arabic. A 12th century church called "The Virgin Lady" still stands in that place. Feeling safer in Egypt, the Holy Family rested under a sycamore tree, known now as “Virgin Mary’s Tree” or "Mariam’s Tree" which is now a prominent attraction spot for religious tourists. According to English Ahram, the "Chrism" or the holy "Mayron oil" is still being extracted from the oil of that tree.
The Virgin's Tree Traditionally, where Mary Rested During the Flight into Egypt (1897) - Underwood & Underwood - Wikimedia commons
The family's next stop was the Valley of Natrun (
), a place which, according to ETA's website, "was the monasticism’s first home in the world to practice chastity and meditating God."
The Flight into Egypt as illustrated by Gentile da Fabriano in 1423 - Petar Milošević - Wikimedia commons
Al-Matarya district and Al-Zaytoun are two other key stops of the Holy Family's journey; in Toman Bey Street, Al-Zaytoun, a church by the name "
" still stands and some of the church visitors have been reporting sightings of the Virgin Lady appearing near the church's domes.
Virgin Mary Church at Zaytoun - F50R2J - Wikimedia commons
Moving on to "Old Cairo" (Al-Fustaat), the Holy Family stayed for a short period of time in a cave, which was turned later into Abi Serja Church, inside the Roman Fortress of Babylon. After which they moved on to Al-Maadi district and stayed in the location which later turned into another "Virgin Mary" Church. Sailing a boat south the Nile stream, then crossing the east bank of the river, passing by
, where the Monastery of the Virgin on top of the Gabal Al-Kaf is now located. Gabal Al-Kaf which translates Mountain of the Palm is where Jesus is believed to have left an imprint of his palm on the stones of the mountain.
Minya - Sondos Ahmed - Wikimedia commons
Continuing their journey through
, crossing back to the west side of the river to Assuit, where they stayed for six months, which is the longest period they spent in the same place during their journey through Egypt, that is where Joseph had a dream in which an angel told him that Herod the great was dead and it was safe to return to Palestine. Thus, after spending more than three years in Egypt, the Holy Family started their journey back, taking the same route to Palestine. The place where they stayed in Assuit is known now as Al-Qussia, where Al-Muharraq Monastery was later on built and still stands today.
Addeir Al-Moharraq – Al-Qussia - Assiut - Egypt - Tour Mana Ali - Wikimedia commons
After being embraced by Pope Francis as a part of the Roman Catholic pilgrimage route, the route is expected to highly promote religious tourism in Egypt. Eight stops of the 25 were chosen to form the main stops of the pilgrimage route; the pilgrimage starts in the city of Al-Arish, North Sinai, crosses to the Eastern Delta of the Nile and reaches Wadi Al-Natroun, where a number of important Coptic monasteries lie, including St. Mary Church in Mostorod, Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church and the Garnos Monastery.