Minnesota in Egypt

First Century: Potent Traditions

This page gives additional information about events mentioned in timeline

site map: or back to introductory page. Links below are to the bibliography, or the Web.

Flight into Egypt, Giotto (1304-06, Scrovegni Chapel, Padua)

Flight of the Holy Family into Egypt

The Gospel of Matthew says "When he [Joseph] arose, he took the young child and his mother by night and departed into Egypt: and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, "Out of Egypt I have called my son" [Matthew 2:14-15].

click picture for more images

Only one gospel mentions the journey. It gives no details. From the second century onwards "Infancy Narratives"
appeared to fill the gap, giving rise to stories still current in Egypt today (Griggs 1993, 12). For some stories, click on the image at left.


In 1999 an article in a Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram, mentions numerous places revered today by both Muslims and Christians because of their taditional associations with the Holy Family. It includes a map of the proposed route.

A detail is below: compare the Egyptian Tourist Agency site,


Be Thou there, The Holy Family's Journey in Egypt,, ed.Gawdat Gabra, published 2001 discusses the sources, the route as it has been established over time, and the importanceof the story to present day Egyptians, both Christian and Muslim.

In BABYLON, a site near the present day city of CAIRO (see inset at right), the Holy Family are said to have taken shelter in a place now covered by the Church of St. George.

A pamphlet sold in the neighboring Ben Ezra synagogue charmingly defends the validity of this tradition by arguing that, as devout Jews, the exiles would certainly seek refuge near a synagogue. Unfortunately, we cannot prove that the synagogue goes back to the first century.

St. Mark and Egypt

The New Testament records many journeys St. Paul and others made in order to preach the Gospel. It does not mention a journey to Egypt, although some passages may suggest an early spread of Christianity there (Griggs 1993, 14-18).

It is a fourth century historian, Eusebius, who says Peter sent Mark to Egypt:

"Now this Mark is the one whom they say to have been the first sent to Egypt to preach the Gospel, which he had also written down, and the first to establish churches in Alexandria itself." Eusebius of Caesarea Hist. eccl. II,15,1-2; III,39,15, quoted Griggs 1993, 19; cf. Jerome PL XXII, 1002 ; VI,14,6).

Some additional support for this tradition appears in a second century letter of Clement of Alexandria (Griggs 1993, 20-21; Smith 1973; Smith 1982).


According to the Acts of Mark., Mark was dragged from the Easter service and martyred in AD 67/8. His relics were said to be preserved in Alexandria, defeating all efforts to remove them until the Venetians carried some or all away to Venice in 829. Venice later built the church of San Marco to house them.

Venice returned some of the relics to Alexandria in 1968.

In the sixteenth century, the Venetian artist Tintoretto painted a series of pictures for the Scuola San Marco in that city. One appears on the left. It shows the Christians of Alexandria taking advantage of a thunderstorm to recover the body of the saint after his executioners.

For the tradition as preserved in the Coptic Orthodox Church, and the return of the relics, see