The Holy Family at Al Ashmounein Town, Malawy
Once more crossing the Nile, back to its west bank, the Holy Family traveled southwards to the town of Al-Ashmounein or Hermopolis Magna but it seems that they did not tarry long there. Leaving behind them the rubble of fallen idols, they continued still in a southerly direction, for another 20 kms or so to Dairout Al-Sharif (which, like Al-Ashmounein, had an alternative Greek name: Philes); and thence to Qussqam (or Qost-Qoussia). Here, too, the recorded events testify that the townsfolk were infuriated when the stone statue of their local deity cracked and fell, and evicted the Holy Family from the town. A historically recorded incident dating to that period refers to the devastation of Qussqam, and Coptic tradition asserts that the ruin that befell the town was the consequence of its violent rejection of the gentle visitors.
We have an entirely different story in the warm welcome with which the holy refugees were met at their next stop at Meir (or Meira) only 7 kms west of Qoussia. Here, they found only consideration and hospitality wherever they went, for which treatment the town and its people were signally blessed.
The Holy Family at Mount Qussqam
Now it was time for the Holy Family to set out for what is, arguably, the most meaningful destination of all in the land of Egypt, the place where there would be "an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt". Gabal (Mount) Qussqam, which takes its name from the town nearby that was laid waste, is 327 kms south of Cairo, and stand in the Governorate of Assiut. The Monastery of Al-Muharraq nestles against the western foothills of the Mountain. It was built around the area where the Holy Family remained just over six months. Their time was spent mainly in a cave which became, in the Coptic era, the altar of the Church of Virgin Mary, built at the western end of the Monastery compound. The altar stone was the resting place of the Child Jesus during the months He dwelt there.
The Monastery of Al-Muharraq - Gabal (Mount) Qussqam, Assuit. Above Right: The Oldest altar-stone in history - Monastery of Al-Muharraq, Assuit
The whole area the Monastery and its surroundings is redolent of the Coptic Christian ethos. So hallowed are its intimations, that the Copts of Egypt named it the Second Bethlehem. It was here, at the very spot where Al-Muharraq Monastery stands, that the Angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, and said "Arise, and take the young Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for they are dead which sought the young Child's life" (Matthew 2:20&21
The Holy Family at Mount Dronka, Assiut
An icon at the Virgin Mary Monastery - Gabal Dronka
And so they set forth on the return journey. The route they took deviated slightly from the one by which they had come. It took them to Mount Dronka, 8 kms south-west of the city of Assiut, and their blessing of this location was commemorated in the Christian era by the building of the mountain-top Monastery of Dronka. Eventually, they arrived at Old Cairo, then Matariyah, and on to Mahamma, retracing more or less their steps on their outward journey across Sinai to Palestine.
Virgin Mary Monastery - Gabal (Mount) Dronka. Below
Subsequent Biblical history says it all: at the end, they arrived home, Joseph's old house, in the small town of Nazareth, in Galilee, in the land of Palestine, from where the message of Christ would, in the fullness of time, be heard. The whole journey, from the initial flight from Bethlehem to the return to Nazareth lasted over three years. They had covered something like 2000 kms; their means of transport a weak beast of burden and the occasional sailboat on the Nile. But for much of the way, the delicate Mother and the rugged old Carpenter must have trudged on foot, enduring the fierce summer heat and the biting winter's cold, suffering the pangs of hunger and the parching affliction of thirst like hunted outlaws. It was a journey of indescribable agony and anguish which the Child Jesus, His Virgin Mother and the Sainted Joseph bore with inner joy, and survived, for the sake of mankind.
The Holy Family's Journey in the Land of Egypt
On the 24th day of the Coptic month of Bashans, which corresponds to the 1st of June, the Coptic Church celebrates the entry of the Lord Jesus Christ into the land of Egypt. On that day, the churches throughout the length and breadth of the land that gave the Holy Family shelter resound with the words of the Doxology: "Rejoice, Oh Egypt; Oh, people of Egypt and all ye Children of Egypt who live within its borders, rejoice and lift up your hearts, for the Lover of all mankind, He who has been before the beginning of ages, has come to you".
Last Updated: June 14th, 2011
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