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Christian Sites of Egypt

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  • Fr. John-Brian
    Christian Sites of Egypt writer: Jacky Tuinstra EGYPT TODAY MAGAZINE http://www.egypttoday.com/issues/0401/73DA/040173DA.asp Follow the trail meandering
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 3, 2004
      Christian Sites of Egypt
      writer: Jacky Tuinstra


      Follow the trail meandering throughout the cradle of Christian civilization

      Whether you're a pilgrim looking to drink from holy water or an art buff
      with interest in iconography, Egypt, the cradle of Christendom, has an
      extensive index of Christian sites, all within weekend (or long-weekend)
      travel distance of Cairo.

      Keep in mind when you are planning your trip that not all churches and
      monasteries have guesthouses. In many cases, you will need permission to
      stay overnight, so arrange these details beforehand. Geographically,
      Christian sites are located around the Delta and the Sinai, in Cairo itself
      and in Upper Egypt.

      Getting blessed
      Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus are believed to have stayed in Egypt for
      four years after an angel told Joseph to flee to Egypt, fulfilling an Old
      Testament prophecy. The locations the holy family visited are said to have
      been revealed in a dream to the Coptic Patriarch Theophilus, around 500 AD.

      These holy family sites often revolve around wells or places where visions
      have appeared and are the scene of lively mulids. But these mulids are not
      always accessible to foreigners. You might be able to check out the mulid of
      Mar Girgus (St. George), near Luxor. It takes place in November and has some
      spectacular horse performances and lots of music.

      Because water was so important to Egyptian life, many of the sites you can
      visit revolve around wells blessed by or miraculously created by the child
      Jesus. Several of these wells have been polluted, so ask before you drink.
      Starting in Upper Egypt, at Ishin Al-Nasara near Wadi Rayan (see page 105)
      pilgrims await the rising of the well water on August 21. Travel about 10 km
      west to Dayr Al-Garnus and the pilgrimage site of the Church of the Holy
      Water, which in addition to be being blessed with another well, has a 16th
      century iconostasis and an intricate liturgical book. Expectant mothers and
      those suffering from a variety of sicknesses, both Muslim and Christian,
      come to the well at Bir Al-Sahaba, south of Beni Hassan, said to have been
      divinely created during the holy family's visit there.

      Back in the Delta, the town of Samannud, near Mansoura, is famous for the
      relics of a 3rd century child martyr, but the church there also has a
      blessed well in its courtyard, from which water is pumped and purified so
      you can drink it. There is also a bowl where the Virgin Mary is said to have
      baked her bread.

      Besides the wells, places where the Virgin Mary is believed to have appeared
      in visions command a lot of attention. In Assiut, the holy family embarked
      on a journey by boat. Today, Assiut is receiving renewed attention after a
      mysterious light was photographed there. But of more interest may be the
      convent at Dayr Durunka, 9 km south of Assiut - in August, the moulid of the
      Virgin attracts thousands of visitors, drawn after she was said to have made
      repeated appearances there. Stay at the rest house outside the main gate for
      about LE 5, but bring your own food.

      To really, really walk in the footprints of Jesus in the most literal way,
      go to Sakha in the Delta. It is well-known for the 1984 "discovery" of the
      footprint of Jesus, now preserved in a glass case.

      There are even holy sites in Cairo: The Virgin Mary is said to have appeared
      and performed miracles in Zeitun at the Church of the Holy Virgin for many
      weeks in 1968.

      In Matariya, enjoy the shade of the Tree of the Holy Virgin, where, after
      Jesus had been bathed in a well of his own creation, his bathwater brought
      forth a fragment balsam plant. This tree is used today for the process of
      preparing holy oil, which has, since antiquity, involved adding a little old
      oil to the new, so that the blessings are passed on from apostolic times to
      the present day.

      In Klot Bek, near Downtown, the Cathedral and Monastery of St. Mark have
      another well blessed by the holy family, as does a church in Musturud, which
      also has an inspiring collection of icons.

      If you're planning to walk in the steps of the Holy family, pick up The Holy
      Family in Egypt, or Be Thou There: The Holy Family's Journey in Egypt, both
      available at AUC.

      The Art of Faith
      Coptic art and architecture have a unique style that offers a glimpse into
      that short blip of history where the ancient Egyptian religion crossed over
      with the Coptic Christian era. Without ever leaving Cairo, you can check out
      quite a few examples of Coptic icons, illustrated manuscripts and beautiful

      The Catholic Holy Family Church at Matariya has some excellent paintings of
      the angel appearing to Joseph and instructing him to flee with his family to
      Egypt. A great place to buy pictures of saints is near the Church of the
      Holy Virgin at Harit Zuweila, near Al-Muski. A popular trading district, its
      narrow streets make an interesting shopping expedition. Stop in the church
      to see some intricate iconography or have your illnesses "cured" at the
      now-polluted well.

      The Franciscan monastery close to Harit Zuwayla has a sizable library. Comb
      through a selection of books, encyclopedias and manuscripts related to
      Christianity in the East, or check out the delicately decorated Bibles.

      Art buffs should not miss the Coptic Museum. Jump off the Metro at Mar
      Girgis to see ancient Coptic scriptures, remains from excavations,
      manuscripts, ancient icons, crosses and mosaics.

      It is believed the Holy Family stayed in Coptic Cairo as well, so there are
      several other points of interest in the area. A huge, ornamented door is
      hinged inside the Convent of St. George and you can ask to be wrapped in
      chains to receive a blessing. A short walk down Mar Girgis St. brings you to
      the Hanging Church, with its beautiful collection of restored ancient icons
      and an old iconostasis inlaid with ivory and ebony.

      Mosaic lovers should visit the Church of the Holy Virgin in Maadi, where the
      Holy Family is said to have departed in a boat for Upper Egypt.

      If Upper Egypt is on your vacation itinerary, make a stop at the Christian
      village of Dayr Abu Hinnis, near Mallawi. Here there are many 6th century
      caves used by hermits and a rock-cut church. The church has the oldest
      murals in the world depicting the flight into Egypt, including paintings of
      the angel's visit to Joseph and of King Herod. In June, a procession through
      the village commemorates the Holy Family's crossing into Egypt. The bishop
      of Mallawi crosses the Nile in a boat decorated with paintings of the Holy
      Family. Travel just a few kilometers south to Dayr Al-Barsha to see more
      paintings and a variety of crosses at the Church of St. Bishoy.

      In the Delta, the monastery of the Holy Virgin of Al-Muharraq marks the
      place where the Holy Family stayed the longest. It also where Jesus appeared
      after the resurrection. Inside the monastery is the first-century Church of
      the Holy Virgin, surely one of the oldest in the world. Notice the 18th and
      19th century icons.

      The monastic craze
      There are two kinds of monasticism, both developed in Egypt: eremitic, which
      entails a life of complete solitude, and cenobitic, which is the more
      common, communal life. Egypt has the distinction of being the birthplace of
      Christian monasticism, which spread like fire to the rest of Christendom.
      Many monasteries that once flourished are now in ruin, but you can still
      visit some of the functioning ones.

      In the Sinai, the Coptic monasteries of St. Anthony and St. Paul are the
      oldest the world. Located in the cliffs of Gebel Al-Galala Al-Qibliya, they
      are accessible from Zaafarana. They're open to visitors during the day and
      you can hike between the two, but you need a guide and a superfit body. You
      can stay overnight at St. Paul's, but need permission from its residence in
      Cairo (tel: (02) 590-0218, 26 Al-Keneesa Al-Morcosia). There is a guesthouse
      for men inside and one for women outside. St. Paul was known as the first
      Christian hermit, but it is St. Anthony who is credited for founding
      monasticism, and the monastery that bears his name was built in the 4th
      century. It houses a collection of old crosses and manuscripts, as well as
      some impressive wall paintings. The nearby cave of St. Anthony is worth the

      No visit to the Sinai would be complete without trekking up Mount Sinai. Hop
      on a bus or flag down a service taxi from Nuweiba, Dahab or Taba. There is a
      chapel at the top which houses some excellent paintings, as well as a
      mosque, but it is now kept locked. St. Catherine's Greek Orthodox monastery
      below has a collection of icons and jeweled crosses. It is also possible to
      overnight nearby.

      Wadi Natrun, 100 km northwest of Cairo, is where 4th century Christians came
      to escape Roman persecution. Of the 60 monasteries, only 4 remain. The
      Coptic pope is still chosen from among the Wadi Natrun monks. Deir Anba
      Bishoi monastery contains St. Bishoi's preserved body. Each year in July,
      the tube containing the body is carried in procession. You need permission
      to stay overnight and women are generally not permitted.

      In the Nile Valley, near Sohag, the White and Red monasteries are an
      interesting day trip. The White Monastery was built in 400 AD with chunks of
      white limestone from a Pharaonic temple. It once had 2000 monks, but now has
      four. The Red Monastery has a 1000-year old icon and some interesting

      For help organizing it all, check out www.holyfamilytravel.com. Churches
      often arrange pilgrimages and can help you find a Cairo residence for any
      monasteries you need permission to visit.
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