Flight to Egypt

The flight of the Holy Family to Egypt, seeking refuge, is an event related to us very briefly in the Gospel of St. Matthew.

Behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,

"Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him." (2:13)

Joseph complied. It might have taken the fugitives three days to reach Egypt where they were beyond Herod’s jurisdiction. Of the flight, and its duration, Scripture gives us no further information, telling us only that the Holy Family fled by night from Bethlehem, and returned when Joseph had again been assured in a dream that it would be safe to take the Savior back to the land of His nativity.

Apocryphal Sources

St. Matthew tells us neither where the Holy Family abode in Egypt, nor how long their exile lasted; the Evangelist alludes only to the causes of their flight and of their return. Ancient legends relate that they remained absent two years from Palestine, and lived at Matareya, a few miles northeast of Cairo, where a fountain and a Sycamore tree under which they had rested emerged upon Jesus’ request.

It is left to apocryphal legends, immortalized by the genius of Italian art, to tell us how, on the way, the dragons came and bowed to Him, the lions and leopards adored Him, the roses of Jericho blossomed wherever His footsteps trod, the palm-trees at His command bent down to give them dates, the robbers were overawed by His majesty, and the journey was miraculously shortened. They tell us further how, at Jesus’ entrance into the country, all the idols of the land of Egypt fell from their pedestals with a sudden crash, and lay shattered and broken upon their faces, and how many wonderful cures of leprosy and relief of demoniac possession were accomplished by His word. This wealth of legendary miracles arising in part from a mere craving for the supernatural, and in part from a fanciful application of Old Testament prophesies - furnishes a strong contrast to the truthful simplicity of the Gospel narrative.

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