The Holy Family at Wadi El Natroun
Their trail from Sakha, is recorded in the documentation of Pope Theophilus' vision, and attested to by Coptic practice in the Christian era. For it was to Wadi el-Natroun (Natroun Valley) that they now came, after crossing the Rosetta branch of the Nile to the western Delta and heading south into Wadi el-Natroun (then called Al Asqeet) in the Western Desert of Egypt. In the earliest decades of Christianity, the desert expanses of Wadi el-Natroun became the site of anchoretic settlement and, later, of many monasteries, in spiritual commemoration of the Holy Family's passage through the Valley.
The Holy Family at Matareya and Ain Shams
(St. Mary's Tree - Matariyah, Cairo)
Eventually, they left the desert behind them and made their way southwards, crossing the Nile to its eastern bank, and heading for Matariyah and Ain Shams (ancient Heliopolis, the site of the oldest 'university' in history called since earliest Pharaonic times, 'On'). Both these adjacent districts are outlying suburbs of present day Cairo, only 10 kms or so from the city center. The Holy Family at Zeitoun
(An icon at Virgin Mary Church - Zeitoun)
At the time of the Holy Family's arrival there, Ain Shams was home to a large Jewish community, who had erected a temple the Synagogue of Unias, - for their worship. In Matariyah, a tree still stands to this day, still regularly visited, called "Mary's Tree", for the Family is believed to have rested in its shade. Here, too, the Infant Jesus caused water to flow from a spring, from which He drank and blessed, and in which the Virgin washed His clothes. She poured the washing water on to the ground, and from that spot, the fragrant balsam plant blossomed: besides the healing and pain-soothing properties of this balm, its essence is used in the preparation of the scents and perfumes of which the holy Chrism is composed.
( An icon at Virgin Mary Church - Zeitoun)
Setting out next towards Old Cairo, the Holy Family rested for a while in Zeitoun, on their way; then proceeded along a course which traverses what are now crowded, bustling quarters of Cairo, within which the serene landmarks of an earlier Coptic heritage still stand, marking the paths the Holy Family followed. A listing of these landmarks, at this point, may be of pertinent interest.