To Cairo: Following the Trail of the Holy Family
In recent years, the Ministry of Tourism and the Coptic Church of Egypt have been actively promoting and developing a pilgrimage tour – the route of the holy family. It is proposed to walk through the baby Jesus, Virgin Mary and Joseph, who were in Egypt for several years, hiding from King Herod. The route itself stretches from North Sinai through Cairo and its suburbs to the city of Asyut, includes 25 revered places, it will take 5-8 days to fully travel the entire route (excluding North Sinai for security reasons).
Cairo and its districts occupy a significant part of the route, it begins with a visit to the tree of the Virgin Mary in Mataria, a branchy evergreen sycamore tree, in the shadow of which the Holy Family stopped to rest. The tree is not allowed to die and shoots are constantly planted, the last time it was done in 1906. The Matariya district itself, currently a densely populated suburb of Cairo, was once a small village with fairly fertile soil, so balsamic trees and date palms grow well there. And its name, according to some assumptions, comes from the Latin word “mater”, that is, “mother” just because of the existence of the tree of the Virgin Mary.
Further, following the agricultural road from Cairo to Bilbeis, tourists will find the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the small town of Musturude, there is also a cave and a well; his holy family used for domestic needs, including bathing, so the place is called El Mahamma (bathing place).
The most famous and oldest churches are located in Old Cairo, are a semblance of a Coptic city. The area is mainly inhabited by Egyptian Christians (Copts), it is distinguished by the cleanliness of the streets, many narrow alleys, in the depths of which there are churches, sometimes very small, several square meters. They greatly honor St. George, the metro station, which is located in Old Cairo and is called Mar Girgis. In these places, which are currently the focus of Christian culture in Egypt, according to the Coptic tradition, the Jesus family lived for some time.
Here is the Hanging Church (Al-Muallak in Arabic), very beautiful as if floating in the air, if you look from afar. The building was built over the wall of the fortress of the ancient Roman era, which serves as the foundation. From the 7th to the 13th centuries the temple served as the seat of the Coptic patriarchs, witnessed important elections and religious ceremonies. Of great value is its decoration and icons made of ebony and ivory, peculiar, without respecting the proportions, but leaving a strong impression. The main icon in the temple depicts the Virgin Mary with Jesus in her arms and John the Baptist, dates back to the 8th century, the image is also called the Coptic Mona Lisa. Another interesting feature of the church – its wooden domed roof, imitating the shape of Noah’s ark, gives a stunning view of old craftsmanship.
The oldest temple in Egypt is the Abu Serga Church. It was built over a cave, where a holy family took refuge at the end of its residence in this country, dedicated to Saints Sergius and Bacchus, soldiers of the Roman army, followers of Jesus. The grotto is 10 meters deep, has 2 walkways, a domed ceiling, with a place for a baptismal ceremony. Often the cave is flooded with rising water levels in the Nile and may be closed to the public. Every year on June 1, the Abu Serga Church holds a festive service on the occasion of the arrival of the holy family in Egypt.
If you deviate a little from the route in order to feel the completeness of the Coptic ensemble, you should go to the church of St. Barbara, it is located very close to the temple of Abu Serga, similar to it in style and architecture. The appearance of the building is rather modest, it differs little from neighboring buildings. Such a lowly sight was supposed to protect the temple from plunder and unrest, which occurred quite often. The church bears the name of St. Barbara, who was tortured and killed by his own father for Christian convictions, but was immediately struck by lightning. Here in the sarcophagus her relics are stored. One of the main advantages of the church is the carved iconostasis of the 13th century. from ivory, the whole atmosphere inside the building is permeated with antiquity and strong religious traditions.
In the modern, well-maintained suburb of Cairo – Maadi district, 13 km from Ramses Square, on the spot where the holy family got into a sailing boat to go further to the south of Egypt, there is now the Temple of the Virgin Mary. Throughout its existence, the church was called differently: initially Tikalabi, then Martuti (mother of God), the longest time is El Adavia named after the Moroccan woman who owned the gardens in the district. The temple building was rebuilt 8, and according to some reports 9 times. The church itself is located in close proximity to the Nile, stone steps lead to the river, along which Maria and her baby used to descend. Due to the proximity to water and its destructive effects, several restorations were carried out.