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A Re-examination of the Holy Family Tradition in Upper Egypt

Featured Photo: Shangyun Shen, Coptic monks walking on the boulevard in the Monastery of Dayr al-Muharrq.

Author: Shangyun Shen

Before the massive city of Cairo awoke from its slumber, we hopped on the minibus that would eventually take us all the way to the hinterland of Upper Egypt and back. We were embarking on a journey to visit the sites believed to be trodden by the Holy Family some 2000 years ago.
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Approximately 50 kilometers south of Dayr al-Muharraq and 9 kilometers south of the ancient city of Lycopolis, nowadays Asyut, lies the massive monastic complex of Dayr Durunka. It is a “neophyte” to the itinerary of the Holy Family tradition, because  no ancient text suggests that this place was a stopover for the Holy Family. However, one of the charismatic features of the tradition is its dynamic development., thus when one reads from the 6th century manuscript The Armenian Gospel of the Infancy that the Holy Family travelled further south in  fear of Herod ( despite the angel’s notification of all-clear to them). then it is beyond reproach to say that the Holy Family might have been to this spot after their departure from Dayr al-Muharraq.
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Dayr al-Muharraq

The monastery of the Holy Virgin of al–Muharraq lies at the foot of Qusqam Hill, 327 kilometers south of Cairo. This monastery is unquestionably the most prominent location in the Holy Family’s itinerary. Dayr al-Muharraq means the monastery scorched by fire in Arabic referring to the desiccated desert around as well as occasional burning of ruderal vegetation. According to tradition, this is the place that the Holy Family stayed for six months and five days, and where Jesus, after his Resurrection, returned and consecrated an altar in order to fulfill the prophecy in Isaiah 19:19, in that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt. The location of the monastery is roughly the geographical center of the African Egypt.
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On the road from al-Qusiya to the Monastery of al-Muharraq lies the village of Sarakna. Some five thousand Christians make up about 90 percent of the population. Although the village is not on the Church-issued official itinerary of the Holy Family, locals believe in the presence of the Holy Family, and argue that they must have passed Sarakna on their way from al-Qusiya to the Monastery of al-Muharraq.
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