Virgin’s Tree in Matariya, Northern Cairo – Trip Advisor
CAIRO – 5 November 2017: In their flight to Egypt, the Holy Family always settled next to a spring. They found one in Heliopolis, Northern Cairo, after leaving Wadi el-Natrun.
Virgin Mary washed her garments, sprinkling the used water on the ground, from which a balsam tree, now known as Virgin’s Tree, sprouted and continues to receive visitors to this day.
Edited map of the Holy Family's flight into Egypt - Egypt Tourism Authority
We got off the subway at the Matariya station and asked a passerby about the tree. The ancient tree is a tourist attraction and lies under the jurisdiction of the Antiquities Ministry. We followed the directions and bought tickets to visit the tree.
The area was surrounded by a wall on which verses praising the Virgin from the Mariam surah (chapter) in the Quran and others from the Holy Bible were engraved, paving the way to her sacred tree. As we kept walking, we saw a small statue of Mary in her blue garments, leading up to another mural showing Mary and Joseph the Carpenter bathing Child Christ near the ancient well where the family settled.
The well is still full of water. It was surrounded by a family of women, whose modest appearance indicates they come from the Delta region. The mother was wearing an embellished abaya and had her hair covered. She and her daughter, Marian, were trying to reach into the well where water looked unsanitary, while they chanted, “bless you Mary, bless you lady of light.” Around the well, there was something akin to a cave, and an official there told us it was recently built to preserve this holy place.
The women, who had come for the Virgin’s blessings, left the well and headed towards the tree. A small circular fence surrounded the tree. There was the trunk of the original tree, which shaded the Holy Family, and two other trees, which people planted to memorialize the mother tree.
Marian, who was trying to reach into the well, put her hand on the tree and prayed that Mary gives her a child, as the tree has a reputation among visitors to bless women with children.
Latin words and letters were carved on the tree itself. Near the tree, there was a “mini-museum,” which exhibited antiquities from the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt. One of those items was a stone said to have been used by the Virgin to bathe the Child Christ.
We left the tree and searched for the nearest church. It was in a nearby street called Al-Balsam Street; the church was called the Church of Virgin Mary. Reverend Barsoum Shaker, who has been serving the Church since 1992, welcomed us and told us the story of the tree. He said the Virgin blessed this area, and that the tree and the well Mary drank from where she washed her garments are the only areas known to have been crossed by the Holy Family in el-Matariya and Heliopolis.
“All streets around the tree have names related to Mary,” said the Reverend, adding that, “we are in Al-Balsam street, and there is another one called Al-Balsan street, which also means ‘balsam’.” “There is a third street called Shagaret Mariam (Mary’s Tree) and a fourth called Be’r Mariam (Mary’s well). Even Muslims built a mosque and called it Shagaret Mariam Mosque (mosque of Mary’s tree).”
Reverend Barsoum said that the original tree had withered long ago, but priests serving in Heliopolis and Matariya have been planting shrubs from the original tree to sprout smaller trees, so that it continues to bless Egypt.
The Reverend also told us that French soldiers during their invasion of Egypt (1798 – 1801) tried to cut the tree, but it bled, so they only engraved their names on it.
We left the tree and its stories and headed to Al-Gamaliya, where Coptic history hides behind Fatimid Cairo’s minarets.
Translated by Heba Fadel