Monday, October 12, 2015

The Virgin Mary Tree

Copyright © Egypt, Cradle of Civilization

In the incoherent district of El-Mataria, in Cairo, there stands an old sycamore tree that has been attracting thousands of pilgrims each Christmas, it's called the "Virgin's Tree". There are many sacred trees in Egypt, trees that have offered shelter for the Holy Family during their stay here, but the one in Mataria holds the highest regard of all.

The Virgin's Tree at Al Matariyah
Mataria is now a heavily populated suburb in Cairo accessed by a modern fly-over, but 2000 years ago it was a fertile, simple village where many of these balsamic trees were grown and many date palms too. The village of Mataria was popular among pilgrims from the Holy Land and at the time it was considered one of the holy sites and a blessed place like paradise. Of all the sites visited by pilgrims after Christianity was declared the religion of the Roman Empire at the beginning of the fourth century, this tree was regarded as the most holy.

The Holy Family On Their Journey Into Egypt
The journey of the Holy Family took them from Palestine to Egypt, a journey that lasted for about three and a half years, taking them through many towns in Upper and Lower Egypt. The accounts of this journey are chronicled in a Mimar (manuscript) by Pope Theophilus, 23rd Patriarch of Alexandria (384-412 A.D.) He wrote down what the Virgin Mary told him when she appeared to him in a vision. Other sources of information include accounts by 2nd and 3rd century Greek and Jewish writers, philosophers and historians.


The Holy Family journeyed south from Palestine across the wilderness, avoiding the main road for fear of capture. They entered Egypt at modern-day Rafah, where a lone sycamore tree is said to have survived since their visit there too. The only other country where Jesus Christ is said to have lived besides his homeland Palestine, is Egypt. The reason apart from it being a land of plenty with no shortage of natural resources, Egypt was traditionally seen to have a high level of cultural integration and religious tolerance.


The holy journey of the holy family in Egypt
Today the balsam shrubs have long since disappeared and the sycamore that stands now grew from a shoot planted in place of the original tree but the tradition of the tree continues to live on. The sycamore was sacred in Pharaonic times and it was called "Nehet". The sycamore tree lives long and bears sun exposure and humidity. Ancient Egyptians used them in making wooden monuments. Sycamores exist all over the Delta, Upper Egypt and also in the oases. It is considered a popular fruit in villages. These trees are beautiful and shady, so they are cultivated on wide road sides.


It is told that as Mary, Joseph the carpenter and the child Jesus tried to escape from two brigands who were in their pursuit; the trunk of the sycamore tree miraculously opened its bark where they hid inside, escaping detection. The tree is said to have medicinal properties, which is the reason why its branches are depleted, pilgrims have even stripped its bark. In the 15th century Felix Fabri, a Dominican monk, visited Mataria and noted that a gate had been built around the tree for protection and that the number of pilgrims that could enter at any one time was restricted to four. Nearby it is believed that a spring of water gushed out of the ground forming a pool where the Virgin Mary bathed Jesus is also said to be part of the miracles of the place because of its healing water.


Mary the Mother of Jesus
According to the Old Testament, the prophecy foretold that idols shall crumble wherever Jesus went, but this was not the only blessing to be granted to Egypt, as being chosen a safe haven for the Holy Family, but also for its people to have been the first to experience the miracles of Jesus the son of Mary.
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