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Al-Muharraq Monastery | Coastweek

ASSIUT, (Xinhua) -- A gate of Al-Muharraq Monastery in Assiut, Egypt. A woman visits the cubic-shaped altar inside Virgin Mary’s Church of Al-Muharraq Monastery, where Jesus stayed for six months and five days, in Assiut, Egypt, Oct. 11, 2016. The Monastery of Virgin Mary at Al-Muharraq and the Convent of Virgin Mary on the Mountain of Assiut province in southern Egypt stand as historical eyewitnesses of the flee trip of the Holy Family of Jesus Christ, his mother Virgin Mary and St. Joseph to Upper Egypt over 2,000 years ago. Xinhua PHOTO: Meng Tao
Virgin Mary’s convent, monastery in Assiut eye
witnesses of Holy Family’s flee to Upper Egypt

By Mahmoud Fouly, Wang Xue ASSIUT, Egypt (Xinhua) -- The Monastery of Virgin Mary at Al-Muharraq and the Convent of Virgin Mary on the Mountain of Assiut province in southern Egypt stand as historical eyewitnesses of the flee trip of the Holy Family of Jesus Christ, his mother Virgin Mary and St. Joseph to Upper Egypt over 2,000 years ago.

Approaching Al-Muharraq Monastery at Al-Qusiya town in Assiut, some 400 km from Egypt’s capital Cairo, the large external walls lead to the inner area of the monastery that includes Virgin Mary’s Church, the most ancient part of the monastery that dates back to Jesus’ childhood.

“This is the oldest church in Egypt and the only one consecrated by Jesus and his disciples,” said Father Philoxenous, a monk at Al-Muharraq Monastery, while talking about the simple-built ancient church made of sun-dried bricks with unsymmetrical walls.

“Jesus stayed here for six months and five days, and this is the most important content in the sanctuary,” the priest told Xinhua while pointing to the cubic-shaped altar inside the church with a semicircular edge and a marble slab on its surface where Greek inscription is engraved.

He explained that the place had been used first as a church for 400 years, and since the fourth century monks began to gather around the church and start the monastic life. “So, we’re talking about a 2,000-year-old place.”

At the altar sanctuary inside the church, several people have been doing their prayers including a group of old ladies who came from San Francisco in the United States just to visit the place.

“I feel here the scent of saints, Jesus Christ and his mother Virgin Mary. For me, this is one of the holiest places in the world. It is like Jerusalem to me. This is why I covered all the way from San Francisco to get its blessing,” Amany Girgis, a lady in her 50s, told Xinhua near the altar inside the old church.

The ancient area of the monastery includes the old church that dates back to the first century, the taller fort that was used for monks’ protection in the seventh century and nearby St. George Church that dates back 150 years.

Assiut officials said that they pay a lot of interest on providing sufficient services for the Coptic holy sites in the southern province and that they have recently added new attachments to the place as well as direction signs in the main desert roads to reach the monasteries.

“Assiut Tourism Authority is in constant communication with those in charge of the monasteries to develop their surroundings, prepare the roads leading to them, provide them with sufficient lighting, plants and other services,” said Osman al-Husseini, chief of Assiut Tourism Activation Authority.

The official told Xinhua at his office in Assiut Governorate building that Coptic monasteries are among the most important touristic sites visited by both Christians and Muslims from all over the world, noting his authority is working hard to shed light on them as key spots on Egypt’s touristic map.

“We included them in the CDs we made on Assiut sites with nine languages including Chinese, and we distributed them to all embassies and airports around Egypt,” Husseini continued while opening the Chinese version of the CD.

Located on Assiut Mountain about 100 meters above ground level, the Convent of Virgin Mary in Dronka town, around 7 km of western Assiut, is believed to be the last stop of the Holy Family in Upper Egypt. It is frequented by hundreds of thousands every year as a place of pilgrimage.

“It is one of the oldest monasteries in the Coptic history, as it dates back to the fourth century as a monastery and to the end of the first century as a place of prayers represented in the Cave Church,” said Father Luke, a monk in the convent.

Inside the 4,500 year-old cave, which dates back to 2500 BC, people gathered at the furthest left side of the Cave Church to say their prayers while examining the small room which is believed to be the Holy Family’s refuge before leaving back home.

Besides the Cave Church, the convent includes several other churches as well as halls for spiritual and social activities and many rooms for reception and accommodation for visitors.

“We developed all places in the convent except for the cave. We can’t develop it, because it is 4,500 years old,” the monk told Xinhua inside the Cave Church, noting the convent is most crowded during the Coptic festival in August.

At one of the corners of the church, Shenouda Milad, a man in his late 30s, said that he has come from northern Egypt to visit the Convent of Virgin Mary.

“We come on a journey to visit all monasteries in Upper Egypt including Luxor, Sohag, Aswan, Menia and finally Assiut as they all were visited and inhabited by Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ,” the man told Xinhua, noting that the Holy Family spent three months in the cave before returning home.

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