The veneration of the saints at pilgrimage sites is one of the characteristics of the Coptic religious life, past and present. In the Late Antique period, the significant pilgrimage center of St. Menas (Abu Mina), which flourished from the fifth to the eighth century, attracted pilgrims from all over the world. Nowadays Copts flock annually to more than 60 pilgrimage centers all over Egypt. The pilgrimage sites associated with the Holy Virgin Mary and St. George (Mari Girgis) are the most famous among them. There are many pilgrimage sites believed to be blessed by the Holy Family in their flight into Egypt that are visited annually by hundreds of thousands of pious people. The pilgrimage site of St. George at Riziqat near Luxor is the most popular.
A visit to any one of them involves some customs and rituals that include special prayers in honor of the saints; offerings and donations of money, incense, or candles and the sacrifice of an animal such as a lamb; baptism of children; tattooing the cross on the children’s right wrist; and often exorcisms. The pilgrimage is often described by the Egyptians as mulid, a colloquial Arabic term that designates a feast or a celebration in honor of a saint.
Coptic mulid is an occasion for outdoor religious festivities combined with opportunities for commerce and entertainment. Some of its aspects have roots in the religious heritage of pharaonic Egypt and might be considered as “survivals.” Beginning in the late 1970s, the Islamic fundamentalists’ movements strove to affect the mulid practices of both Muslim and Copts. On the other hand, a “clericalization” of the activities of the Coptic mulids by the clerics is unmistakable.