The Holy Family in Egypt

Follow the footsteps of the Holy Family and discover the most sacred places in Egypt.

The Flight into Egypt (1657) by Nicolas PoussinMusée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon

Looking for Escape

 The most venerated group in the Christian religion is the Holy Family: Baby Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and Saint Joseph. After an angel warned them of a plot by King Herod to kill the Baby Jesus, they fled to Egypt, stopping at villages and cities across the country.

Holy Family route through Egypt by Mostafa ZohdyAmerican Research Center In Egypt (ARCE)

Following the Footsteps

 Stories of the Holy Family and the miracles of Jesus at these sites carried on throughout the generations, inspiring the construction of churches and monasteries. Today, pilgrims travel along the route to walk in the footsteps of the Holy Family. 

Entry into Egypt

The Holy Family entered Egypt via Farama, known also as Pelusium,
a port city that was situated on what was the Eastern branch of the Nile, but is now desert. There are still remains of ancient churches from the 5th to 7th centuries at the site. 

Springing Forth New Life in Tell el Basta

Next, the Holy Family travelled to Tell el Basta, an ancient Egyptian city. Here, you can see a well from the 1st century, which some believe was created by Jesus. Pilgrims visit the holy well to drink from it. 

Resurrection in Bilbays

Moving south, the Holy Family traveled to Bilbays. According to tradition, they entered the city amidst a funeral procession of a young man. Feeling sympathy for the dead man’s mother, Jesus raised him from the dead.

Icon of St George and the youth of Mytilene (1200/1300)British Museum

The Military Saint

Today, the modern Church of St. George sits over the ruins of ancient churches. 

Holy Family route through Egypt by Mostafa ZohdyAmerican Research Center In Egypt (ARCE)

Blessing from Samannud

Next, the Holy Family travelled to Samannud where they lived for several weeks alongside the local people. In the Church of Apa Nub, you can drink holy water from a well blessed by Jesus, or touch a granite bowl where the Virgin Mary baked bread. 

Footsteps of Jesus in Sakha

The Holy Family continued to the western Delta. Here you will see a very unique relic: the footprint of Jesus. The story goes that the baby Jesus was thirsty but his mother couldn't find any water. When she placed him on the ground, a stream sprung up underneath his foot.

The stone was found in 1984 during construction work near the Church of the Holy Virgin. When the Deacon saw the stone with a light brown impression, he immediately remembered the story. On the back was the word Allah, "God" in Arabic, which cemented the identification.

Monks in the Holy Place of Wadi El Natrun

As the Holy Family traveled further west, across the Nile, they passed by Wadi Natrun and blessed the place. The Child Jesus created a well in the desert, making this desolate area one of the most sacred Christian sites.

Desert of Scetis

The area of Wadi Natrun attracted thousands of monks and at one point there were 700 monasteries in the area. Today you can visit four monasteries that have persisted for centuries. 

Saint-Exupery (1944) by John PhillipsLIFE Photo Collection

Saint-Exupery's Plane Crash

The environs of Wadi Natrun have been identified as the likely location where the plane of French aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry crashed on December 30, 1935. Saint-Exupéry documented his experience in his book Wind, Sand and Stars.

Video game:The Little Prince (2000)The Strong National Museum of Play

The Little Prince

The event is thought to have inspired his most famous work, The Little Prince.

Holy Family route through Egypt by Mostafa ZohdyAmerican Research Center In Egypt (ARCE)

The Virgin Mary's Tree in Matariya

The Holy Family moved south to Matariya, a busy suburb in modern day Cairo. There you will find a holy Sycamore tree which once provided shelter for the Holy Family. It is also said that Jesus brought forth a spring at the site. 

The Virgin Mary washed Jesus in the stream and where she threw out the water, balsam plants grew.

Creation of Coptic Cairo

The Holy Family passed through an area now known as Coptic Cairo that houses many churches, including the famous Hanging Church, as well as the Coptic Museum.

Hanging Church, Cairo (2004-10) by Przemyslaw "Blueshade" IdzkiewiczAmerican Research Center In Egypt (ARCE)

You can walk through the ancient Church of St. Sergius and St Bacchus, known as Abu Serga, which sits atop a cave where the Holy Family sought shelter. 

Holy Family route through Egypt by Mostafa ZohdyAmerican Research Center In Egypt (ARCE)

Miracles in Maadi

The Holy Family set sail up the Nile from the southern Cairo suburb of Maadi, where the Church of the Virgin Mary sits along the river’s shore.  

This site was also the location of a modern miracle. In 1976, a Deacon found a Bible floating in the river, opened to a verse in Isiah 19, which read, “Blessed be Egypt my people.” Today you can visit that very bible, secured in a reliquary in the church. 

Palmprint of Protection

Traveling south, the Holy Family crossed the Nile to Gabal al-Tayr,  one of the most important pilgrimage sites on the route. According to tradition, a pharaonic temple stood here which crumbled upon the arrival of the true God, fulfilling the prophecy in Isiah 19.

The pagan priests were angered by the destruction of their idols and, seeking refuge, Jesus placed his hand on the mountain and split it in two, providing a hiding place for the Holy Family. Now, you can step inside the Church of the Holy Virgin on that very spot.

Curses and Blessings

The family continued up the Nile, stopping at small villages along the way, like Al Ashmunein, Dairut, Bir al-Shaba, and Meir, which were blessed by the Holy Family and today house churches and monasteries. However, one town received not a blessing, but a curse... 

The residence of Al Qusiyyah chased away the Holy Family and, in turn, the baby Jesus cursed the town. Locals believe that the curse was concentrated on an area of land where nothing will grow.    

The First Church

After moving further south, the Holy Family settled in Deir Al Muharraq, where they stayed for over six months. It is also believed that, after his resurrection, Jesus returned to the spot to consecrate the alter, making it the first church in the world.

Following the journey of the Holy Family, you can end your trip in one of the holiest places in the world, and venerate the Holy Family in the place where Christian worship began.

Credits: Story

Story by Tessa Litecky
Map created by Mostafa Zohdy (ARCE)

This story was created in association with a museum exhibition and academic conference titled Exalted Spirits: The Veneration of the Dead in Egypt through the Ages, jointly organized by The American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) , The American University in Cairo (AUC), and the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities (MoTA) in Egypt. 

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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