When we think of Egypt we most often think of the Pyramids, the Valley of the Kings, and King Tut. After all, who didn’t watch The Mummy and want to be an Egyptologist? But if you’re a Christian, or just need a break from the hieroglyphics, there’s plenty of Biblical history etched into the land of the Pharaohs. After all, Egypt is one of the most named locations in the Bible: it was the location of the Israelites enslavement and liberation; the place the patriarchs looked for help during famine; the birth place of Moses; the site where the law was delivered to Moses; and where Jesus took refuge from Herod.
In the Gospel of Matthew, the Holy Family flees to Egypt to escape Herod the Great’s slaughter of the children of Bethlehem. Most historians think that the story was created in order to make Jesus appear more like Moses, but to ancient Egyptian Christians it gave them the opportunity to write themselves into the Biblical story. From the fourth century onwards we begin to find evidence of churches and shrines dedicated to filling in the gaps in this period of Jesus’ life. How did they arrive in Egypt? Where did they stay? And what did they eat?
The answers to these questions can be found in the archeology, literature, and religious sites of Roman era Egypt, To this day pilgrims can visit the Church of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus (also known as Abu Serga) in the Babylonian Fortress is Cairo. It’s one of the oldest Coptic Christian Churches in the world and was first consecrated in the fourth century. According to legend it was built on the spot where Joseph and Mary rested after their long journey to safety in Egypt. Those who want to follow in the literal footsteps of the Holy Family should descend into the crypt. Just don’t attempt this when the Nile is flooded as the 10 meter deep crypt may be flooded. While in Cairo also visit the hanging Church, for its architectural history and wide-ranging collection of icons and just wander the narrow, medieval streets of Coptic Cairo.
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