The Holy Family at Deir Al-Garnous, Maghagha

 

The sailboat docked at the village of Ashnein El-Nassara (a small village near the town of Maghagha), then the village of Deir Al-Garnous (the later site of the monastery of Al-Garnous) 10 km west of Ashnein El-Nassara. Outside the western wall of the church of the Virgin, a deep well is believed to have provided the Holy Family with the water they needed.

 

The Holy Family at Al-Bahnassa

 

They went on from there to a spot, later named “Abai Issous” meaning, “the house of Jesus,” the site of present day Sandafa village, east of Al-Bahnassa.

 

The Holy Family at Gabal El-Tair, Samalout

 

Towards the south, they went to Samalout and crossed the Nile again to the east bank, where the Monastery of the Virgin Mary now stands upon Gabal El-Tair, meaning “Bird Mountain.” This mountain is known by that name because thousands of birds gather there. The Holy Family rested in a cave which is now located inside the ancient church.

 

Coptic tradition maintains that, as the Holy Family rested in the shade of the mountain, Jesus stretched His little hand to hold back a rock which was about to detach itself from the mountain’s side and fall upon them. The imprint of His palm is still visible. Therefore, this mountain is also known as “Gabal El-Kaf,” meaning “Palm Mountain.”

 

When they resumed their travels, the Holy Family passed a laurel tree, south of Gabal El-Tair. It is claimed that this tree bowed to worship the Lord Christ while He was passing. The configuration of the tree is, indeed, unique because all its branches incline downwards, trailing on the ground, then turn upwards again, covered in a cloak of green leaves. The tree is named “Al-Abed” meaning “the worshiper.” 

 

The Holy Family at Al-Ashmounein, Mallawy

 

            The Holy Family travelled south to reach “El-Sheikh Ebada” where the Infant Jesus caused a spring to flow. Thereafter, they crossed the Nile to the west bank and continued until reaching “Al-Shmounei (ancient Hermopolis Magma). Leaving behind them the rubble of the fallen idols, they blessed Al-Ashmounein, and made their way to the south reaching Mallawy, where Deir Al-Malak (the Monastery of the Angel) is, and crossed the Nile to the east bank and rested at “Kom Maria,” where today is located “Deir Abou Hennis” (the Monastery of St. Youannes). They continued until reaching “Tel El-Amarna.”

 

The Holy Family at Qussqam

 

            Here, too, the recorded events testified that the townsfolk were infuriated when the stone statue of their local deity cracked and fell, and evicted the Holy Family from the town. A historically recorded incident dating to that period refers to the devastation of Qussqam (or Qost-Qoussia), and the Coptic tradition asserts that the ruin that befell the town was the consequence of its violent rejection of the Holy Family.

 

            The Holy Family received a very different welcome at their next stop,  Meir (or Meira) only 7 km west of Qoussia. Here, they found hospitality, and wherever they went, the townspeople treated them with love, in which they were also blessed.

 

            Now it was time for the Holy Family to set out for what is the most meaningful destination of all in the land of Egypt, the place where there would be “an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt.” Mount Qussqam, which takes its name from the town nearby that was laid waste, is 327 km south of Cairo. The Monastery of Al-Muharraq nestles against the western foothills of the Mountain. It was built around the area where the Holy Family remained for just over six months. Their time was spent mainly in a cave which became, in the Coptic era, the altar of the church of the Virgin Mary, built at the western end of the Monastery compound. The altar stone was the resting place of the Child Jesus during the months He dwelt there.

 

            It was here, at the very spot where Al-Muharraq Monastery stands, th at the angel of the Lord appeared to St. 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).

 

The Return

 

            And so they set forth on the return journey. The route they took deviated slightly from the one by which they had come as it took them to the western mountain, 8 km south west of the city of Assiut, and there blessing of the location was commemorated in the Christian era by the building of the mountain top Convent of the Virgin Mary.

 

            Eventually, they arrived at Old Cairo, then Matariyah, and on to Mahammah, more or less retracing their steps across Sinai to the land of Israel. Subsequent Biblical history indicates that at the end, they arrived at St. Joseph’s old house, in the small town of Nazareth in Galilee.

 

            The whole journey, from the initial flight from Bethlehem to the return to Nazareth lasted over three years. It covered approximately 2000 km (1250 miles). On the 24th of the Coptic month of Bashans, which corresponds to 1st of June, the Coptic Church celebrates the entry of the Lord Jesus into the land of Egypt.