Restoration of Virgin Mary Monastery in southern Egypt sparks controversy

CAIRO —– The restoration in southern Egypt of the Virgin Mary Monastery, situated at a spot the place the holy household might have spent its final days in Egypt earlier than returning to Palestine greater than 2,000 years in the past, is inflicting a stir.

The Virgin Mary Monastery in Dronka in Assiut governorate is claimed to have been constructed the place Mary, Joseph and the toddler Jesus hung out earlier than boarding a ship on the Nile River and returning to their homeland.

Tradition says the holy household stayed in a collapse Western Assiut Mountain after fleeing to Egypt following Jesus’ beginning in Bethlehem. The cave now homes the Chapel of the Virgin Mary.

The monastery and the chapel underwent a complete reworking a yr in the past as a part of Egypt’s plans to revive the Holy Family Trail and breathe new life into Egypt’s tourism sector.

The restoration work on the monastery and the chapel was lately accomplished, and each had been reopened by Coptic Orthodox Church monks Aug. 1.

A shock, nonetheless, was in retailer: The flooring of the chapel has been coated with ceramic tiles. This, detractors of the restoration say, has hid the unique rocks of the mountain into which the cave was dug.

There had been offended reactions to images and movies ensuing from the opening ceremony of the monastery and the chapel.

“I saw terrifying photos of the sanctuary of the Monastery of the Virgin Mary in Assiut after its remodeling,” one man tweeted. “I could not believe my eyes. I hope the photos are untrue.”

Renowned novelist Ibrahim Abdel Meguid wrote about his go to to the collapse 1995, saying he spent a day contained in the chapel. “The place buzzes with history and sanctity,” Abdel Meguid wrote. “You cannot cover its original floor with ceramic tiles.”

The Virgin Mary Monastery in Dronka is among the oldest such constructions nonetheless operational in Egypt.

It is claimed to have been constructed over 1,500 years in the past. Nevertheless, the monastery’s chapel is claimed so far to the primary century. Some consider the cave was used for the storage of grains by Joseph.

The desert monastery on the Nile about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the town of Assiut is round 100 meters (330 toes) above sea degree, which was why southern Egyptians used to hunt refuge there when the river flooded.

Egyptians of all stripes flock to the chapel year-round, however particularly in June, when the go to of the holy household is widely known.

The celebrations begin June 13 and final for 15 days. As they ascend the mountain on the street to the chapel, many pilgrims recall all that’s sacred concerning the place.

But some surprise about this now. “The restoration has taken the chapel totally out of the context of its history and place,” main Egyptologist Bassam al-Shamaa informed Al-Monitor. “It should have preserved its ancient features, not throw away its historical identity.”

Egypt is investing closely in reviving what is claimed to have been the route of the holy household. In doing so, it’s capitalizing on the presence of a protracted listing of websites mentioned to have been visited by Joseph, Mary and Jesus once they fled to Egypt to flee King Herod the Great. While the Gospel of Matthew briefly mentions the flight into Egypt, it does don’t go into element about the place the household had been. New Testament apocrypha do go into extra element, nonetheless.

The plan to revive the Holy Family Trail contains the restoration of 25 websites in all components of Egypt, from Sinai within the northeast to Assiut.

The websites embrace church buildings, monasteries, cities and water wells. The restoration of a few of the websites has already been accomplished.

Behind this funding are Egypt’s hopes to make use of these websites to entice extra overseas vacationers and breathe new life into its tourism sector.

The sector contributes round 11.9% of Egypt’s gross home product and employs 9.5% of the overall nationwide workforce of round 27 million.

The tourism sector obtained a painful blow in late 2015 when a Russian passenger airplane was blown up by a bomb over Sinai shortly after takeoff from Sharm el-Sheikh; it had been headed to St. Petersburg in western Russia.

The downing precipitated a sequence of flight bans to Egyptian locations.

The tourism sector obtained one other blow early final yr due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the recession that hit worldwide travel actions.

In March 2020, Egyptian Tourism Minister Khaled al-Anani mentioned the suspension of worldwide flights to Egypt due to the pandemic would deprive his nation of $1 billion in revenues every month.

“Egypt pins a lot of hope on the Holy Family Trail, which is why all state authorities pay huge attention to this file,” impartial tourism knowledgeable Magdi Selim informed Al-Monitor. “We expect the revival of the trail to attract a large number of foreign tourists to sites visited by the holy family.”

Egypt, whose Christian minority makes up almost 10% of the inhabitants of 101 million, boasts numerous church buildings and monasteries, a few of them nearly as previous because the Christian religion itself.

There even have been restoration points at historic websites aside from the Virgin Mary Monastery.

The restoration of a historic palace in jap Cairo introduced public wrath on the Ministry of Antiquities two years in the past. The marble and the supplies used within the restoration of the Baron Palace, some archeologists mentioned, had been of poor high quality and never in line with the unique fashion of the place.

And in 2015, some Egyptian Museum consultants used beeswax to reattach King Tutankhamun beard to its golden burial masks.

The reworking of the Virgin Mary Monastery and chapel was multifaceted. The lighting system of the chapel was modernized and the place was supplied with higher air flow.

An air-conditioning system was launched to the chapel for the primary time. The previous wood pews of the chapel had been changed with new plastic chairs.

The Coptic Orthodox Church says these adjustments had been essential to make the place extra snug for the hundreds of people that go to it yearly.

“We were very keen to preserve the ancient nature of the sanctuary,” Father Youaness Tawfik, the bishop of Assiut, informed Al-Monitor. “We only wanted to provide those visiting the place with comfort.”

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