Ethar El-Katatney

On the Holy Trail

Posted in Egypt Today by Ethar El-Katatney on April 8, 2008

On the Holy Trail
Egypt Today
Cover Story: 52 Weekends
April 2008

Available at:
Photo Credit: Rebecca Collard

A tour of Christian sites takes you across the country.

By: Ethar El-Katatney

Once upon a time, you could substitute the word Coptic with the word Egyptian. Little wonder then that Egypt is home to myriad Christian sites inside and outside the capital.

For those sticking to the capital, your best bet is to head to Old Cairo. The first place on your list should be El-Mu’allaqa, or the Hanging Church, on Mar Girgis Street. It is believed to have been built in the seventh century on the site of an older fourth-century church, and perhaps the first to be built in the Basilican style. Don’t miss the beautiful collection of restored ancient icons and an iconostasis inlaid with ebony and ivory.

Nearby is the Coptic Museum (Tel: +2 (02) 2362-8766, open 10am-5pm) with a collection of manuscripts, icons, crosses, mosaics and the remains of excavations.

A short walk away is the Church of Abu Serga, built on the site of a cave in which the Holy Family is thought to have resided at the end of their stay in Egypt. Nearby is the Church of the Virgin Mary, which has a a granite bowl in which Mary is believed to have made bread. Inside the church are the preserved relics of a third-century child martyr. Make sure to stop by the Church of Saint Mercurius as well as the Convent of St. George, where you will find a huge, ornamented door hinged inside the building and a series of catacombs where the legendary dragon-slayer is believed to have been tortured.

To properly follow the trail of the Holy Family through Cairo, tour agency South Sinai Egypt (Tel: +2 (02) 2418-7310) organizes trips to Christian sites in Cairo.

During their three-and-a-half year flight, the Holy Family traveled from Sinai, through the Delta, down the Nile to Upper Egypt and back. Tour agency Holy Family Egypt ( organizes trips to visit Christian sites and moulids, visiting along the way the Monastery on Mount Dronka just south of Assiut (which hosts an annual Moulid of the Virgin Mary in August), a church on Gabal El-Teir (Bird Mountain) — also known as Gabal Al-Kaf (Mountain of the Palm) — near Minya, and El-Moharreq Monastery near Assiut, where Jesus and his parents stayed until an angel appeared to Joseph telling him to return to Palestine because Herod had died.

The mountains along the Red Sea is considered the birthplace of Christian monasticism and the location of the oldest monasteries in the world: the fourth- and fifth-century Monasteries of St. Anthony and St. Paul on Gabal El-Galala, near Zaafarana. St. Paul is known as the first Christian hermit and St. Anthony is credited with founding and spreading monasticism. St. Anthony’s houses a collection of crosses, manuscripts and impressive wall paintings, and the nearby cave where St. Anthony lived and died is worth the hike.

Another exciting hike is the trek up Mount Sinai to watch the sunrise from the spot where it is believed the prophet Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. Below, St. Catherine’s Monastery shelters the Burning Bush from the Old Testament and a collection of icons and jeweled crosses.

Sakha, in Kafr El-Sheikh, was one of the stops of the Holy Family during their flight from Herod’s soldiers. It is well-known for the 1984 ‘discovery’ of a stone with Jesus’ footprint, now preserved in a glass case inside the Church of the Holy Virgin.

The holy family then passed through Wadi El-Natroun, 100 kilometers northwest of Cairo. Here you’ll find the Monastery of St. Macarius where early Christians fled from persecution, the Monastery of El-Baramous, the Monastery of St. Mary, St. Yehni Kama’s Monastery and St. Bishoi’s Monastery, which is the monastic residence of Pope Shenouda III, the patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church. To this day, the Coptic pope is still chosen from among the monks of Wadi El-Natroun.

To complete your tour, make sure to visit Alexandria to see the coastal city’s first church, St. Mark’s Cathedral, where more than 100 Coptic popes are buried, then return to Cairo to catch the Pope’s weekly sermon at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Abassiyya. et


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