Resources of the Journey
The tortuous trails they followed in their passage across Sinai, and their subsequent travels within Egypt, were chronicled by Pope Theophilus, 23rd Patriarch of Alexandria (384-412 AD). He testified, in his celebrated annals, that on the eve of the 6th of the Coptic month of Hathor (corresponding with November), after long prayer, the Holy Virgin revealed herself to him. The Holy Virgin related the details of the Holy Family’s journey to, from and in Egypt to Pope Theophilus and instructed him to record what he saw and heard. This is considered a very trusted source. It is a virtual certainty that, at a time when happenings of a momentous or historical nature were transmitted by word of mouth from one generation to next, the account of Pope Theophilus’ vision simply confirmed the oral tradition of supernatural occurrences which accompanied the arrival of a wondrous Child in the towns and villages of Egypt some four hundred years earlier.
The flight of the Holy Family in Egypt is also found in the writings of Hippolytus of Rome. He was a theologian, active church leader and a Biblical commentator during the early 3rd century. He indicates that the Holy Family stayed in Egypt for 3 years and 6 months. He may have received the early local traditions within the Christian church in Egypt just over 200 years after the death of Christ.
Another source is a work composed by Sozomen, the Christian historian in the middle of the 5th century. His works provided information about events from 325 to 425 about local sites in Hermopolis. In chapter five he records “At Hermopolis, in the Thebaid, is a tree called Persis of which the branches, the leaves and the least portion of the bark are said to heal diseases, when touched by the sick; for it is related by the Egyptians that when Joseph fled with Christ and Mary, the holy mother of God, from the wrath of Herod, they went to Hermpolois; when entering at the gate, this largest tree, as if not enduring the advent of Christ, inclined to the ground and worshiped him.”
Other sources of information include accounts by 2nd and 3rd century Greek and Jewish writers, philosophers, and historians.
The Holy Family at El-Zaraniq and Farama
According to the sources of the Coptic Church, chief among which is the vision documented by Pope Theophilus, and recorded in the Coptic Synaxarium, the Holy Family proceeded from Bethlehem to Gaza, and from there to El-Zaraniq (a.k.a. Floussiat), some 37 km west of Al-Arish. They then threaded their way along northern Sinai until they reached Farama (ancient Pelusium). It was their last stop in Sinai and with the next leg of their journey they put the perils of the wilderness behind them.
The Holy Family at Basta
At Tel-Basta (Bubastis or Basta), where the Holy Family rested under a tree which survived till 1850, Jesus caused a spring of water to well up from the ground. This spring carried healing powers. His presence caused the idols to crumble, as foretold by the prophets of old. Due to this, the townsfolk turned malevolent and aggressive, whereupon the Holy Family turned their backs on the town and headed southwards.
The Holy Family at Mostorod
Mostorod, which is 10 km away from Cairo, is known as Al-Mahamma, which means the “bathing place” because the Virgin Mary bathed her Child there and washed His clothes. It is noteworthy that, eventually, on their way back home, the Holy Family stopped once more here and, this time, caused a spring to gush from the earth which still flows today.
The Holy Family at Belbeis
From Mostrod, they made their way north-eastwards to Belbeis (ancient Philippos), 55 km from Cairo. They rested there in the shade of a tree, which came to be called, “The Virgin Mary’s tree.”