THE MONASTERY OF AL-MUHARRAQ (Dayr al-Muharraq) near the mountains of Qusqam is considered the most sacred of the Holy Family pilgrimage centers in Egypt. According to tradition, the Holy Family stayed here for more than six months in an old abandoned house on the edge of the desert at the end of their journey through Egypt. The History of the Churches and Monasteries of Egypt (ca. twelfth century) tells this story and adds that after his resurrection, Christ traveled back to Qusqam on a cloud, in the company of his mother and the apostles. He consecrated their former home as a church, , the first church in Egypt. Near the church was a well, blessed by Christ, whose water cured diseases and to which pilgrims came in multitudes?
The author has based his account on The Vision of Theophilus, which is attributed to Patriarch Theophilus (d. 412?), but the text is most likely the work of a later writer. This source records the journey of the Holy Family, the miraculous events during their sojourn in Egypt, and the foundation of the first church at the place that was to become the Church of the Virgin in the Monastery of the Holy Virgin. The consecration of the church, fulfilling Isaiah’s prophesy, “On that day there will be a church in the center of the land of Egypt” (Is. 19:19), is still commemorated each year on November 15.
Historical facts on the monastery are scarce. Originally, it belonged to the Upper Egyptian monasteries that followed the Pachomian Rule and has undoubtedly been rebuilt and renovated several times. The History of the Churches and Monasteries of Egypt mentions the restoration of a keep. Four monks from the Monastery of the Holy Virgin became patriarchs in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. In the thirteenth to the eighteenth century, groups of Ethiopian monks lived in the monastery, which was one of their stops on their way from Ethiopia to Jerusalem.
Today, the Monastery of the Holy Virgin is situated in a sea of fertile fields. The crenelated enclosure walls with gates (1910-1928) give the impression of a medieval castle. The ancient Church of the Virgin and the keep belong to the oldest part of the monastery. Like the keep, the present church building was most probably part of a twelfth-century renovation. However, the extensive renovations and reconstructions at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth century dominate the current appearance of the monastery.
The veneration of the Holy Family and the reputation of the first church make the Monastery of the Holy Virgin one of the oldest and most beloved pilgrimage goals in Egypt. Every June, thousands of people gather at the monastery to celebrate the feast of the Virgin Mary.