Egypt embraced the Holy Family (the Virgin and Jesus) when she has taken refuge in the Egyptian lands to escape Romans oppression in a journey that lasted for more than thirty months, during which she toured many sites and parts in Egypt, and many churches have been established and many Christian monuments have been also left .
Christianity have entered Egypt and the Coptic sects have been also established as well .The Copts have suffered from the persecution of the Roman rule for many years and this explains the presence of many Coptic monuments in the oases and mountains to which the Copts sought refuge, fleeing their religion from the oppression of the Romans.
During the Coptic era, Egypt have known arts; architecture and other civilization manifestations characteristic of that stage, which were influenced by the Pharaonic civilization and continued with the Greco-Roman characteristics to add an important link in the civilizational communication on Egypt’s land .
Many Coptic and Christian antiquities are spread throughout Egypt at Cairo; Sinai; Oasis; Fayyoum, and others
Coptic monuments in Cairo
Most of them are located in Babylon Fortress area, with an area of about half a square kilometer. There are inside it the Coptic museum; six Coptic churches and a monastery are located inside.
The Coptic churches inside the fortress are:
- The Hanging Church
-Qasret al-Rayhan Church
- St. Barbara's Church
-Mary Gergias Church
-Abu Serga Church
-Church of St. Margarius
-Convent of nuns girls.
The Hanging Church is located in the Old Cairo district; in the middle of a group of Coptic monuments; and its main facade has been opened to Mar Girgis Street.
It has been known as the Hanging Church because it is based on the ruins of two large towers of the Roman fortress that was built by Emperor Trajan at the beginning of the second century AD.
Entry to it is via stairs built close to the middle tower.
This church has gained a well-known reputation because it is considered one of the oldest remaining churches in Egypt.In the late Umayyad era (749 AD), the church buildings were damaged and then renovated during the caliphate of Harun al-Rashid, as mentioned in the biography of Anba Mark in the history of the patriarchs, and he rebuilt all the churches of the region at that time.
The building of this church has been renewed during the caliphate of Al-Aziz Billah Al-Fatimi, when Patriarch Ephraim Al-Syrian was allowed to renovate all the churches of Egypt and what were demolished from them.
The church was renovated again in the Fatimid era as well.
St. Barbara's Church
It is located within the walls of o Babylon fortress. It is located about a meter and forty-two centimeters below the level of the ground. It can be reached by descending several steps on a stone ladder.
The church is rectangular in shape and flat, about twenty-six and a half meters long, and about fourteen and a half meters wide.
Abu Serga Church
This church has been established in the late fourth or early fifth century; and it was built in the same place where the Holy Family resided when it fled to Egypt from the presence of Herod, the King of the Jews.
It is as important as the Hanging Church. It was the first church in Egypt after the monastery of Abu Makar, where the patriarchs held the liturgy after their consecration in Alexandria.
This church was destroyed in the tenth century AD and was rebuilt again in the Fatimid era. Remains of this church were found in the form of engraved stones and a door that expresses the splendour of Coptic art in the fourth century, all of which were transferred to the Coptic Museum.
Convent of nun’s girls
It is one of the religious sites that are of great importance to Christians, and many of them and others frequent it to visit in order to bless the martyr, the owner of the monastery.
Qasret al-Rayhan Church
This church is known in history as the Church of Our Lady Virgin Mary .It is located in Bani Husayn alley . One of the patriarchs resided in it around the year 865 AD.
The church is 16 meters long; 14 meters wide and 10 meters high. Its nave and structures are covered with brick domes based on marble columns
This church was one of the most beautiful churches of the Roman fortress. It was built by the wealthy writer Athanasius around the year 684 AD. .
This has been said according to some sources. But it was unfortunately devoured by fire eighty years ago and a new church was built in its place. Nothing remains of the old church except a reception hall known as the "bridal hall" dating back to the fourteenth century
This hall, which is 15 meters long ;about 12 meters wide; is divided into a “hall” and two “iwans”; In the tribal Iwan, there are some wooden windows with prominent inscriptions; and its walls are decorated with reliefs made of gypsum and on the ceiling are colored drawings.
Church of St. Margarius Abu Sefein
The church is located on Abi Sefein Street in Old Cairo. One of the important monuments remaining in that church is a dark cave that can be reached by a small staircase. It has been said that Saint Anba Barsoum al-Arian had taken it as a place of worship for 25 years.
It was wet due to its lowness. It was also submerged by water during the Nile flood day. It had a standing altar as well made of stone, and in its temple a church service was held, where the sick would go to it, believing that they would be cured.The stone, and the church service was held in its temple, where the sick would go to it, believing that they would be cured.
This church is distinguished from all other churches in that it contains the largest number of unique Coptic icons, most of which dates back to the year 1491 - the year of the martyrs (Coptic) - corresponding to 1775 AD. Some are older than that.
In the front of the court there was a wooden barrier for women's seating, followed by another barrier for the men's section.
Coptic monuments in Fayyoum
El -Azab Monastery
It is Known with the monastery of Saint Abram and Saint Virgin Mary.
El-Azab Monastery is located 6 Km south of Fayyoum city. It is considered one of the most important monasteries in the Fayyoum because it is the burial place of Anba Abram, the favourite bishop of Fayyoum and Giza from 1882 to 1914. Peter, the bishop of the Fayyoum, built this monastery in the 12th century. Very little of the 12th century original building is remaining in the church of saint virgin, while everything looks modern
The monastery contains five churches but the two principle churches can be observed in the monastery the first one is Abu Seifeen church which is completely modern and Virgin Mary church.
Abu Seifeen church:
This church is completely modern، and it is characterized by its remarkable domes also this church includes the remains of the Fayyoum Martyrs and other martyrs encased in ornamented red velvet in glass boxes.Virgin Mary church:
Few parts of the original building that dates back to the 12th century are exist in this church and it is dedicated to saint Virgin Mary. The church is rectangular and divided into four aisles by three colonnades every one of them is consists of three circular columns these aisles end with four irregular shaped sanctuaries in the eastern side of the church and there is a wooden screen separates these sanctuaries of the church’s aisles.
Deir El-Malak Ghobrial (Monastery of Archangel Gabriel)
It is located 16 km southeast of Fayyoum city in Jabal al-Naqlun, the center of Etsa. It can be reached through the al-Azab village. It dates back to the third century AD. It is also known as the monastery of Abu Khashaba.
The caves that the early Christians used to resort to during the Roman persecution of Christianity have been revealed.
Monasticism has begun in this monastery in the fourth century. It is reinforced by the existence of manuscripts containing monastic laws that has been sent by Anba Anthony to the monks of the monastery.
It is considered the only monastery in Egypt that bears the name of the angel Gabriel or Gabriel. Monasticism has been lasted there until the 18th century; as it is mentioned that Anba Samuel the Confessor has lived in the caves near him for 35 years.
Coptic monuments in Sinai
In 342 A.D The Empress Helena mother of Constantine the Great built a monastery including the chapel known as the Virgin Mary at the burning Bush site where it is believed that Moses received the two tablets. In the 6th century AD the Emperor Justinian ordered the building of the church known today as the church of Transfiguration, both the church and the monastery were later named for Saint Catherine. Also Justinian ordered the building of a high enclosure wall with towers to protect the monastery, and it is said that he provided it with 200 Roman soldiers to protect it against the attacks of the Bedouins.
The monastery lies at the foot of Moses mountain where the beauty of nature and climate and the fresh well water. To its west is El Raha Valley. It was built on a high location about 1570 feet above the level of the sea.
The most important Elements of the Monastery :
1- The Enclosure wall and the Gate.
2- The Great Church
3- The Burning Bush Chapel
4- The Fatimid Mosque
5- The Library
6- The Wells
7- The oil press
8- The Garden
9- The Monks Cells
10-The Guests dwellings
11-The two Mills
12-The Grain stores
1- The Enclosure wall:This monastery is similar to the fortresses of the middle ages and it is provided with an enclosure wall of granite stones including towers at its corners and surrounded inner buildings .The height of the wall is from 12 to 15 m. while its sides measure 117 ,80 ,77,76 m.
The Original Gate:The original gate is actually located at the western side, but it is now blocked, and to its left is the gate which is used at present, this actual gate was made in 1801.
2- The Main Church (The Great Church):It was built at the Northern side of the monastery. It takes the shape of a basilica and it consists of a central nave and two aisles that lead to small chapels. The central nave ends with the altar at its eastern side and the aisles end with 2 rooms. Near to the Altar to the right there is a reliquary of marble which contains the relics of St. Catherine. The abs is covered by wonderful Byzantine mosaic the visitors to this church must take off their shoes outside before they enter, imitating Moses when he approached this holly place.
The monastery contains about 2000 icons which is considered as one of the most important collections of icons in the world. Some of them date back to the 5th century and the 8th century.
3- The Mosque:It was built during the caliphate of Al- Amer Be Ahkam Allah in 500 A.H (1106 A.D), to be a resting place for the pilgrims who pass by the monastery in their way to mekka. It is situated to the Southwest of the main church .It is a small mosque and rectangular in shape .It measures 11m in length and 7 m in width, its walls are built of granite mortared with loam clay, and it covered from inside and out side by loam clay plaster. The mosque consists of 3 Riwaqs , the middle one is the biggest . It has a main Mihrab flanked by 2 others. The floor of the mosque is covered with hip tiles, but not the original. The roof is covered with wood and reed, tiled with hip tiles. This roof stands on circular arches supported on 2 piers.
4- The Library:The monastery contains one of the most important religious libraries in the world since it contains a great number of very rare and old manuscripts. This library has a large number of decrees of the Caliphs and the rulers. In recent years it had received great attention by many scholars, as most of the manuscripts had been microfilmed by Alexandria University and the Congress Library in Washington.
5- The Wells:There are many wells inside the monastery, the most important are the well of Moses, north the main church. The Burning Bush well, and Saint Stephan’s well south the Main church.
6- The Oil Press:It situated below the mosque, below its courtyard. It is for squeezing Olives to extract oil. Its ceiling is roofed by wooden beams and reed ties resting on granite arches. The floor of the yard is provided with lanterns to lighten the oil press.
7-The Garden:In the front of the monastery there is a garden including a cemetery for the monks in the middle, and a skull house beside it , the monks used to bury their dead and leave the bodies for a certain period , then they collect their bones and deposit them in that skull house .
8- The Guests dwellings (or the guest house):Inside the enclosure wall there is a small building which was constructed in 1863 during Khedive Ismail reign. It dedicated for the dwelling of the visitors and the guests of the monastery.
The most important Coptic archaeological sites in North Sinai:The Holy Family walked from Bethlehem to Gaza to the Zaranik Protectorate (Flusiyat) 37 km west of Al-Arish, and entered Egypt via the northern side of the Farama (Bloseum) side that located between Al-Arish and Port Said cities.
Holy Family in Egypt
In old times, there were three paths that a traveller could pursue from Palestine to Egypt. Sources indicate that the Holy Family, when they entered Egypt, did not follow any of these three ancient paths. But they took another route unknown to the soldiers of Herod who were chasing Virgin Mary to execute her baby. It is also the reason that the Holy Family changed its place of residence in Egypt from the north, to the south, east and west. It was God's destiny that Herod should die before he could reach his evil goal. God restored the Holy Family to their home safe and secure. To let the world reveal the following pages of the three Celestial Beliefs.
All Eastern and Western sources agreed on that the means of transportation that carried Virgin Mary and her son was a donkey, while Joseph tagged along according to the Eastern traditions. This picture was not strange in the Bible, since the Exodus described the return of the Prophet Moses from the country of the Midianites to Egypt.
“So Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey, and returned to the land of Egypt. And Moses took God's staff in his hand.” (Exodus 4:20). Salome the old midwife who also accompanied. The Holy Family passed three locations in North Sinai, eighteen locations in Nile Valley and Delta, visited Wadi Al Natroun in the Western desert, Jabal Al Tair in the Eastern desert and crossed the main River Nile’s course four times.
The stages and steps of the Holy Family’s journey in Egypt were as follows:
1- Rafah: it has been a border city since the ancient ages; located 45 Km east from the city of Arish. In the ruins of the city, remnants in connection with Christianity were found.
2- Arish: a city located at the Mediterranean coast. Remnants of churches were found in its streets.
3- Al Faramah: it is an important archeological site, port and commercial center. It is considered one of the monastic centers. Being the last place where the Holy Family passed in Sinai; increased the importance of this city.
4- Tel Basta: one of the ancient Egyptian cities, was called the city of the Gods. Located near the city of Zagazig. It was entered by the Holy Family in 24th. of Pashons , sat under a tree where the Child Jesus asked to drink. However, the people of the city didn’t receive the Holy Family well, which made Virgin Mary saddened. So, Joseph the carpenter, took a piece of iron hit the ground next to the tree, where water exploded from a spring, and they all drank from it.
5- Zagazig: During the presence of the Holy Family in Tel Basta, a person called 'Qallum' passed by and called them to his house where he was generous and hospitable. When they arrived at the house of Qallum, he apologized that his wife was ill and has been in bed for 3 years. "Now your wife, Sarah, will not be sick." said the child Jesus, At the same time; Sarah went to the door, welcoming the child and his mother, and asked them to stay longer because their home was blessed with the boy’s presence. The soldiers were soon ordered to search for the boy in every corner of the city. So Qallum feared the child Jesus will be hurt and advised Virgin Mary to flee the city at night because of the lack of military activity. In the evening, the Holy Family prepared to leave the place, thanked Qallum and his wife Sarah and the child Jesus blessed their home.
6- Mostorod (Al Mahamah): After leaving Zagazig, the Holy Family arrived at a place at the wilderness, and settled under a tree, and the word (Al Mahamah) meaning of the place of bathing. The city was named so because Virgin Mary found a spring of water where she bathed Jesus Christ and washed his clothes. This place is called (Al Mahamah) to this very day, and the current church is named: The Church of Virgin Mary in Mostorod. The church was dedicated by Patriarch Mark III (73) in 1185 AD, and it still exists until now. A spiritual renaissance is held on the occasion of the consecration of the Church on the seventh and eighth of Paoni corresponding to the fourteenth and the fifteenth of June of each year, this brings hundreds of thousands of visitors to seek blessing and celebrate this occasion. The Holy Family passed by this place again on its way back to the Holy Land.
7- Belbeis: After the Holy Family left Mostorod they arrived to Belbeis which is currently the city of Belbeis belonging to the Al Sharqia governorate and 55Km away from Cairo. There, the Holy Family was shaded under a tree known as the "Tree of Mary". Later, Belbeis became an episcopate. The Holy Family also passed by Belbeis in its return. There is now a church in Belbeis named after the great martyr Mar Gerges.
8- Samannoud: After Belbeis, the Holy Family headed north to the town of Minya Jinnah, now known as Minya Samannoud, where they crossed the sea to reach Samannoud. An ancient tradition said that Virgin Mary participated in preparing bread for a good lady from the people of Samannoud and child Jesus blessed her bread. Attributed to this story, there is a Granite Majour – which is more than a large deep dish for baking bread - in the church where the water is placed after eating from the Holy Sacrament to be a blessing for the visitors. An old church was built there by name of Virgin Mary; it was destroyed and now rebuilt on its ruins a church by the name of “Virgin Mary and martyr Abanoub in Samannoud”. There is a cabin in that Church containing the remains of martyr Abanoub in the same area containing the remains of eight thousand martyrs.
9- Alberlus : When the Holy Family went out of Samannoud, they continued to walk west to the area of Alberlus and landed in the village called " The Fig Tree" where its people did not receive them well, so they walked until they reached a village called "Almtala"; received by a man there who brought them what they need with great joy.
10- Sakha: currently city of Sakha; where the Holy Family felt thirst and did not find any water. The Virgin made her beloved son stand on a pillar base stone, where his insteps sunk in the stone and left their imprint. Water came from the stone and they took their fill. The area was known as the “Bikha Issus "which means the heel of Jesus.
11- Wadi Al-Natroun: After Sakha, the Holy Family crossed the western branch of the Nile until they reached Wadi Al-Natroun, the land of Sheehit. The child Jesus blessed this place and now it has four monasteries: Monastery of Saint Makarius, Monastery of Saint Bishoy, Paromeos Monastery and The Syrian Monastery.
12- Matareya and Ain Shams: the French scientist "Emilino" said that the name of Matareya was not mentioned in the Synaxarium except for the reason of this journey. Since, the Holy Family shaded under a tree in Matareya, known until now by the name Mariam’s Tree. The child Jesus burst out a water spring and blessed it. Then the Virgin washed Jesus clothes, poured the water on the ground that sprouted a beautiful aromatic plant known as Balsam. It is added to perfumes and the Holy Mairuon Oil used in the church rituals. It is known that the original Virgin Mary tree, which the Holy Family rested under has weakened and fell in 1656 AD. Some of the Franciscan monks gathered the branches and twigs of the tree. The tree that present now is only due to the year 1672 AD has its roots from the first tree.
13- Al Fustat: After the arrival of the Holy Family to an area in ancient Egypt known as Babylonian where they inhabited a cave that is now located in the archaeological church of Abi Serja; now known as the church of the martyrs Sergius and Wakhus. It seemed that the Holy Family could not stay in that area more than only a few days. There is an ancient well beside the cave and inside the aquatic structure of the church. This holy grotto is a small chapel under the ground below the middle of the apostles and is a part of the temple structure. This holy cave can be accessed by two ways through staircases; one from the hall of the southern temple of the church and the other from the center of the hall in the northern temple. The length of the holy cave is about 20 feet and 15 feet in width without any windows, and below the floor of the Church of Abu Serja by at least 21 feet, and the floor of the church itself goes down from the street level by about 13 feet.
14- Al Ma’adi: the Holy Family arrived from Al Fustat to the modern-day Al Ma’adi and stayed there for a while and there is now a church named after Virgin Mary in this area.
15- Meet Raheena: after the Ma’adi, the Holy Family arrived to a place known as the city of Memphis that is now Meet Raheena near the Badrashin province of Giza. From there to the south of Upper Egypt through the Nile to the Monastery of the Gernus near Magaghah. The Holy Family took off in a sailing boat through the river Nile going to the south of the country (Upper Egypt), from the spot where the Church of Virgin Mary is now known. The name of Ma’adi came from the crossing of the Holy Family to the Nile on its journey to Upper Egypt. The stone staircase that carried the Holy Family is still present and it has a shrine that opens from the church courtyard.
16- Al Bahnasa district: It is one of the oldest villages in Upper Egypt. The monastery of the Gernus is located 10 km west of Ashnin with a church in the name of the Virgin Mary. Inside the church, there is a water well next to the western wall; the church tradition says that the Holy Family drank from it during its journey.
17- Mount of Birds - Jabal Al Tair: From Al Bahnasa going south to the town of Sammalut, and from there they crossed the river Nile east to Jabal Al Tair where the monastery of Virgin Mary is now present, 2 km south of the ferry of Beni Khalid. Tradition said that during the journey of the Holy Family on the Nile shore a large rock from mountain was about to fall on them but the child Jesus extended his hand and prevented the rock from falling. His palm left an imprint on the rock, and now the mountain is known as Jabal Al Kef – Palm Mountain-.It has been established that there is a tree in the area called Al Abid tree. A special route was constructed to the monastery of Virgin Mary at Jabal al-Tair, from the new Eastern Egyptian Aswan road at the Sammalut Cement Factory. The monastery is located on the top of Jabal Al Tair adjacent to the Nile. It is one of the most important stations of the Holy Family in Egypt after the church of Abu Serja and Deir Al Muharraq.
18- Ashmonein town: From the Mount of Birds the Holy Family crossed the Nile from the eastern to the western side where the town of Ashmonein. The child Jesus carried out many miracles in this town.
19- Dayrout Al Sherif Village: After the holy family left the Ashmonein town, they went south to the village of Dayrout Al Sherif, where they lived for several days. There is a church in the area named after Virgin Mary.
20- Al Qawsiya: When the Holy Family entered Al Qawsiya, the people of the city did not welcome them very well. The old city was destroyed. It is not the present town of Al Qawsiya, but a town near it.
21- The village of Mir: After the holy family moved from the city of Al Qawsiya, they walked 8 km west of Al Qawsiya until they reached the village of Mir, where its people honored the Holy Family and the child Jesus blessed them.
22- Mount Qusakam (Deir Al Muharraq): The Holy Family moved from the village of Mir to Mount Qusakam, 12 km west of Al Qawsiya. It is one of the most important stations of the Holy Family in Egypt.
This monastery is now known as the Monastery of Virgin Mary because of its glorious history. It became the center of excellence and honor to the extent that it is called the second Bethlehem; because it was the sacred place where the Holy Family was a resident in more than any other place, for a period of six months and ten days. The hall where the Holy family stayed became the temple in which the Holy masses and prayers are held in the monastery.
This hall was where the Lord of Glory, as a child performed wonders, miracles and healing signs. West of the cave became a church engraved in the stones of the west mountain, where Virgin Mary used to shelter sometimes. Now, the Christians go there for blessing. Originally, the monastery of Virgin Mary was built in the hall where She lived and the cave which became the temple of the ancient church. That’s why Virgin Mary is the patron saint for the monks and the people of the area around the monastery. Offering vows in Her name, Virgin Mary does miracles and wonders to her lovers. And so the place became holy and for this; it is called the second Jerusalem or the olive mountain.
23- Mount Drenka: From Mount Qusakam, the Holy Family traveled south until they reached Mount Assiut where Drenka monastery is located. The Holy Family stayed inside an ancient cave engraved in the mountain. The Drenka Monastery is the last station where the Holy Family took refuge in Egypt. The monastery is one of the most important tourist attractions in Egypt, where thousands of foreign and Egyptian visitors visit throughout the year to learn about the place where "The Holy Family procession has ended."
The monastery of the Virgin Mary began its activities since the spread of Christianity in Egypt. The region has many monasteries for monks and nuns, and the most famous of those who lived in this area is St. John of Assiut.
The Monastery of Virgin Mary is located at the western mountain of Assiut at a height of hundred meters from the surface of the agricultural land, and is eight kilometers away from Assiut by cut. A distance covered by the car in a quarter of an hour. To go to the monastery the visitor passes Assiut, goes west until facing Mount Assiut, then heading south for a distance of three kilometers where the town of Drenka is located. From there, three kilometers to the village of Drenka then heading one kilometer towards the ascending road to the mountain. At the end, the visitor reaches the doors of the monastery, and the room or cave, which was inhabited by the Holy Family in the first church not only in Egypt, but in the whole world.
The return of the Holy Family from central Egypt (Assiut) to Palestine:
Many sources recall that the Holy Family took the same path as the previously mentioned one, returning to the western shore at the Church of Virgin Mary in Ma’adi, then passing through ancient Egypt, Matareya and Ain Shams, back to Mostorod (Al Mahamah), then to the city of (Lintopolis) that is currently the ruins of Tel Yahoudeyya near Shebin al-Qanater and from there went to Belbeis, Al Basta, Faqqous, Faramah and Arish and then to Gaza and from there to Nazareth.
Egypt is the land of prophecies and celestial messages:
All the religious and historical facts confirm that the choice of God to Egypt to be the second home to Jesus in his childhood was for Egypt to be blessed by Him. From the beginning of time, Egypt had its land blessed by the advent of the prophets and saints. For example, the Prophet Idris, Abraham, Father of the Prophets, Joseph the Righteous, Prophet Jacob and the twelve tribes, Prophet Moses the Holy Family.
Then Mark the Evangelist entered Egypt in 43 AD, founded the first Christian theological school in Alexandria. Egypt presented the gift of monasticism to the Christian world. The monasticism is an authentic Egyptian tradition.
The Egyptian Saint Anthony the Great is the first monk in the world and also the father of monastic family. He was born in 251 AD in the village of Qmn Al Arous – Al wasetta center of Assiut. the monasticism then moved from Egypt to Palestine and Mesopotamia, Syria, Italy, France, Central Asia, Greece and then to the whole world. Centuries later, Egypt was the womb that embraced our Ptophet Muhammad Peace be Upon Him.
In 642 AD, Egypt opened its gates to the Islamic religion, which protected home, property and places of worship and guaranteed the freedom and the sanctity of belief.