Monastery of St. Mary
by Jimmy Dunn
About 10 kilometers from Assiut, situated on the west bank of the Nile is not only one of the most unusual monasteries in Egypt, but is also believed to have been one of the last destinations visited by the Holy Family on their journey through Egypt. Many scholars believe that Assuit was as far south as the Holy Family, Jesus, the Virgin Mary and Joseph got before leaving Egypt for Nazareth. Since that time, monks of the monastery believe that this area has been constantly inhabited by Christians. Indeed, the this area of Egypt has traditionally been heavily populated by the Coptics.
This Monastery of St. Mary, and within it, the cave Chapel of St. Mary is said to date from the first century. Receiving as many as one million visitors per year, it is said that the Virgin Mary from time to time appears in a luminous form within the chapel. This monastery should not be confused with the much larger El Moharek Monastery further south.
The month of August, which is believed to be the month in which the Holy Family arrived in Assiut, is the busiest for visitors to the monastery. The monastery has celebrations from August 7th until the 21st. The Monastery conducts masses and baptisms daily, and receives visitors from 6 AM until 6 PM. Visitors may overnight in the Monastery provided prior consent is arranged.