Not one Coptic Christian home does not know the significance of 2 April. Almost every family in Egypt knows at least one person who says that they witnessed the most popular apparition of the Virgin Mary in Egypt.
In many Egyptian homes, whether Christian or Muslim, you may find black and white photographs depicting the most memorable sight of the Virgin Mary in the 20th century: her apparition in the Zeitoun neighborhood in Cairo.
Following the Six Day War in 1967, Egyptians received a message of hope at a time of darkness and turmoil. On 2 April 1968, mechanics of the garage facing the church reportedly saw a woman standing on top of the Virgin Mary Church’s dome in Zeitoun.
They called out to her, begging her not to jump, and ran to notify the late Father Constantine Moussa, who was the church priest at the time. As more people gathered, the audience realized this was no ordinary woman, shining bright and luminous.
Egyptian authorities conducted investigations to confirm the sightings. On 5 May 1968, Pope Kyrillos VI, the 116th Pope of Alexandria, issued a statement announcing the authenticity of the sightings.
Over the course of three years, the Virgin Mary was reported to have appeared almost every other evening, and people from all over the country traveled to Zeitoun to get a chance to see her. During this time, photographs were published in newspapers that appeared to show doves appearing and disappearing often over the church, accompanying the regular apparitions. Inspired by the events, the garage facing the church was transformed into a cathedral and named after the Virgin Mary.
“It was an indescribable sight! I was only seven years old, walking in the street nearby with my father at around 7 or 8 PM, and we saw her,” says Gergis Nasr, a resident of Zeitoun district in Cairo, and one of the thousands of witnesses of Virgin Mary’s apparition.
“I don’t know how long it lasted because it felt like you were in a different world. She looked like the picture we all know, where she is dressed in a long blue robe. You couldn’t see her facial features, but you could see a huge luminous body and face, definitely larger than the size of a normal human being, tilting her head sideways, and blessing the crowd. It was extraordinary!”
Hundreds of thousands congregated in front of the church daily to see her, including officials, foreigners, believers, and non-believers. These figures were even reported to include Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Local and international newspapers also routinely reported on the event. At the time, many also said that they witnessed miracles in their households.
The Church of Mother Mary in Zeitoun remains one of the most visited places for Christians and Muslims, both local and foreign alike.
Zeitoun is one of the places where the Holy Family, Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus Christ are believed to have sought refuge, during their time in Egypt.