Tracing the steps of the Holy Family’s journey in Egypt


The land of Egypt had been constantly blessed by the presence of prophets. Abraham, Jacob and Moses lived parts of their religiously enlightening stories in Egypt, and the chronicles of their lives will always remain a source of inspiration for the whole world.

The Virgin Mary and her son Jesus, the messenger of peace to mankind, came to Egypt and stayed there for three years and 11 months.

The Virgin Mary who, according to Islam, was chosen “above the women of all nations” made a historical journey to Egypt full of hardships every step of the way to protect her son Jesus from the oppression of King Herod.

Jesus and his mother Mary came to Egypt and years later they left it, but they never left the hearts and minds of Egyptians.

The Biblical book of Isaiah vividly depicts the effect Jesus had on Egypt and the Egyptian people:  “Behold, the Lord rides on a swift cloud, and will come into Egypt, and the idols of Egypt will totter at His Presence, and the heart of Egypt will melt in the midst of it.” (Isaiah 19: 1)

The Journey begins

According to the Gospel of Matthew, after Jesus was born, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said to him, “Arise and take the young child and his mother and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.” (Matthew 2:23)

When Joseph arose, he took the two-year-old child and his mother at night and departed into Egypt seeking shelter in its lands from King Herod who intended to kill all infants of the area in search for the child who was said would threaten his throne.

Church of St. Joseph Nazareth Traditional site of Holy Family’s home

Joseph fetched a donkey for Mary, carrying the little baby in her arms, while Joseph led the way taking the donkey by its leash.

They set off to Sinai through untrodden ways avoiding known paths for fear they might be caught, but risking the dangers of wild beasts and savage tribesmen.

A mosaic of the Holy Family’s

The Holy family proceeded from Bethlehem to Gaza, hence to El-Zaraniq (also known as Floussiat) which is located east of Lake Bardawil.

Then they moved on through northern Sinai until they reached Farama mid-way between El-Arish and present-day Port Said.

Farama was the last stop in Sinai after which the Holy family put behind them the perils of the wilderness.

Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (photo: mawwal)

Tell el-Farama in the Sinai (photo: touregypt)

St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai

After that the Holy family entered Tel Basta or Basta, which is near Zagazig in the Sharqya governorate, almost 100 km northeast of Cairo.

The residents of Tel Basta were worshipping idols and this offended the family so they left the place. It was said that the presence of Jesus in the place caused the idols in the city to crumble.

Tell Basta a 1st century well that some believe to be created by Jesus Christ (photo: holyfamilyegypt)

The family then headed south to the town of Mostorod which came to be called, in those days ‘Al-Mahamma’ about 10 km from Cairo.

‘Al-Mahamma’ means ‘the Bathing Place’, a name given to the town because the Virgin Mary bathed the Christ child and washed his clothes.

If we visit the place, we will find the Virgin Mary Church in Mostorod which was built in 1185 AD. Egyptian church sources said that the church has a well that can heal patients who believe in Mary’s blessings.

The Virgin Mary Church in Mostorod (photo: jesusloves)

A visitor touches an image of the Virgin Mary, as thousands of Egyptian Copts celebrate the Feast of Assumption at the Virgin Mary Church in Mostorod, east of Cairo, August 22, 2014. The Feast of Assumption marks the Virgin Mary’s ascension into heaven (photo: Reuters)

Egyptian Coptic Christians light candles in front of a portrait of the Virgin Mary during a Church in Mostorod,(Photo:Reuters)

The Holy family travelled north-east from Mostorod to Belbeis about 55 km from Cairo. They rested there in the shade of a tree which came to be called “the Virgin Mary’s Tree”.

Veil of the temple the Church of the Virgin Mary – Belbais (photo: copticwave)

The town of Meniet Samannoud was the family’s next destination. It is in the Gharbya governorate, north-west of Belbeis.

The town contains a granite trough which was used by the Virgin Mary for kneading dough for a lady in the town.

The residents of Samannoud received the family with kindness and hospitality that earned them many deserved blessings.

It is worth noting that there is a Virgin Mary’s church in Samannoud, but the name of the church was changed later into (Martyr) Abanob Church.

Martyr Church Abanoub – Samannoud (photo: copticwave)

Towards the north-west, the Holy Family now travelled until they reached the city of Sakha, in the lake-district of Burullus, in the present-day governorate of Kafr El-Sheikh where a rock was found bearing the foot-print of Jesus.

The rock was found on 27 of September 1984 AD.

a rock was found bearing the foot-print of Jesus

After crossing the Rosetta branch of the Nile, the Holy family went south to Wadi Al-Natroun (Natroun Valley).

Monasteries were built in the valley to commemorate the Holy family’s passage there such as the Monastery of Al-Baramus, the Monastery of the Syrians and the monastic settlement of St. Macarius.

Deir Anba Macarius – Wadi Natrun

Deir Anba Macarius – Wadi Natrun

Monastery of Sain Macarius the Great – Wadi Natrun

Monastery of Saint Pishoy- Wadi Natrun

Paromeos Monastery -Wadi Natrun

Syriac monastery -Wadi Natrun

The family moved south towards Cairo and crossed to the east bank of the Nile.

They went to Matarya where they rested under the shade of a tree that still stands and is called “Mary’s tree”.

The infant Jesus caused water to flow from a spring, from which he drank and blessed and in which the Virgin washed his clothes.

She poured the washing water on to the ground, and from that spot, the fragrant balsam plant blossomed: besides the healing and pain-soothing properties of this balm, its essence is used in the preparation of the scents and perfumes of which the holy Chrism is composed of.

The ancient Virgin Mary church was built in Matarya, and people continue to visit it seeking blessings especially on Mary’s birthday on 22 August.

Virgin Mary Tree (photo: etltravel)

After Matarya, the Holy family went to Old Cairo, or Misr el-Kadima, the spiritual impact of their presence is still felt to this day; though their stay was brief, for the Governor of what was then Fustat – enraged by the tumbling down of idols at Jesus’s approach – sought to kill the child.

The Holy Family took shelter from his wrath in a cave.

In later years, the Church of Abu Serga (St. Sergius) was built. This, and the whole area of the Fort of Babylon, is a destination of pilgrimage, not only for Egyptians but for Christians from around the world.

An air of piety and devotion pervades the whole district. In the area, there are interesting Christian sites such as: the Church of Abu Serga and the Crypt of the Holy Family beneath it, the Church of St. Barbara, the Church of St. George (in the Palace of Waxworks), the Church of the Virgin, identified by its alternative name of Qasriet Al-Rihan (Basil Pot) and Al-Muallaqa (Hanging Church), dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Church of Abu Serga

Church of Abu Serga

st-george church old cairo

Hanging Church in Cairo

Hanging Church

The Holy family proceeded until they reached Al-Maadi, then known as Badrashin.

A sailing-boat carried them up in the Nile towards southern Egypt, where it docked at the village of Deir Al- Garnous (the later site of the Monastery of Arganos).

Heading south, they went to Bahnassa then Samalout and crossed the Nile again from that town to the spot on the east bank of the river, where the Monastery of the Virgin now stands upon Gabal El-Tair (‘Bird Mountain’) east of Samalout.

Once more crossing the Nile, back to its west bank, the Holy family travelled southward to the town of Al-Ashmounein, but it seems that they did not tarry long there.

Maadi Virgin Church

Finally, the Holy family headed to Mount Qussuqam, in the governorate of Assyut, where the Monastery of Al Muharraq was established.

The longest time of the family’s stay in Egypt was in this area which was about six months and ten days, and that’s why it is called the Second Bethlehem.

It was the last spot in Egypt where Jesus stayed before the return journey following the news of Herod’s death.

It was there at the very spot where Al-Muharraq Monastery stands that an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Arise, and take the young Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for they are dead which sought the young Child’s life.” (Matthew 2:20-21)

Al-Muharraq Monastery