Assiut, a city in the southern part of Egypt, was the farthest south that Mary and Joseph had travelled into Egypt. Since mid-August, 2000, the Egyptian city of Assiut has experienced unusual lights, glowing figures and doves over St. Mark’s church – a large Coptic church in the center of Old Town. Hundreds and sometimes thousands prayed, sang, and danced around the church. It was initially suspected that somebody was perpetrating a clever hoax with lasers or a light effects show. But, when the local government ordered the electricity for the entire area to be switched off for one night in order to uncover any deception, the unusual lights returned as bright as ever. Next, the officials evacuated the area from 10:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m. each night, but the spiritual lights were stronger and brighter than ever.
It began at 11:30 p.m. on August 17, 2000, while hundreds of thousands of Copts from all over Egypt were celebrating St. Mary’s Lent. Residents around St. Mark’s church of both Coptic and Muslim faith watched the apparition of the Virgin Mary above the dome and between the two towers until 3:00 a.m. Then again, from 4:00 a.m. until 6:00 a.m. she appeared along with blue-green flashes of heavenly lights and glowing doves. Thousands gathered as the news spread like wildfire. After the officials gave up trying to find any evidence of a hoax or clever light display, the figure of Mary along with incense, celestial lights, and flying luminous doves continued every night from 2:00 a.m. until 6:00 a.m. On one occasion, the shadow of a monk appeared next to Mary.
September 6, 2000: One woman told the BBC that she had seen the Virgin Mary with outstretched hands, and a light emanating from them, accompanied by a smell of incense and large numbers of glowing pigeons.
September 11, 2000: Marcelle Maurice witnessed the apparition of the Virgin Mary every night she came to the church. She saw her with the flashing lights and “big white doves.”
Sarwat Hani Marzouk said, “I saw Mary. She was so beautiful, wearing a blue veil. Light was emanating from her hands. Then doves started flying – they were as big as ducks.”
On September 15 – with thousands headed to rooftops for the best views – one eyewitness files this report from his position across from the south side of the church.
“The two church towers – especially the south one – were a festive theater of heavenly lights and flying doves for more than four hours! Very amazing! Very touching! Very impressive! Explosions of light come from each of the eight sides of the second level of the tower. Other flashes stem from the left tower, across the roof, ending in the main dome and illuminating the cross above it. Something like a spot of light could be seen inside the center of the cross above the tower – from which a storm of light burst forth. Lights vary in intensity … to a very bright shining light that is so intense that it illuminates the surrounding buildings and faces of the people!! The most touching feature that occurred many times was a burst of light coming forth from inside the dome, passing through the eight columns … From inside that light comes something like doves – seen at first still continuous with the light, then separated in a spark-like fashion to fly for a short distance – then disappear.”
“As for the doves, I could see them in many formations … flying above the church, between the towers – they don’t flap their wings. What is astonishing is that the chest of each dove is luminous like a lamp. They fly and then disappear after a while. Doves continued to fly with the bursts of light for a couple of hours. When you look around, you see the thousands of people over hundreds of roofs or hanging out windows – praying, singing hymns, or applauding.”
October 8, 2000: The dazzling apparition lights continue over the domes and towers of St. Mark’s church, accompanied with miracles of healings being reported.
Coptic Pope Shenouda III and His Grace Metropolitan Anba Michael of Assiut followed the apparition events closely with the Coptic Pope confirming the validity of these reports on a visit to the US and Canada that year.
“These apparitions are a message of comfort from heaven – and one of confirmation of the faith of Copts – that heaven is aware of their struggle and is pleased by their perseverance.”
Both British and Egyptian journalists have traveled to Assiut and have seen the amazing lights – but cannot find a source or reasonable explanation for their appearance. Father Labib from the nearby Orthodox Copt Dronka Monastery was excited about the sightings, claiming that when you look for the source of light, you cannot find it.
“This light is from heaven.”
March 29, 2001: At St. Michael’s Cathedral, strange events there began drawing thousands. It began in the sanctuary at 1:00 p.m. as the Eucharist was being celebrated. Bright lights illuminated the icons in the sanctuary and bathed the Holy Oblations on the altar. This occurred several more times before the Holy Mass concluded at 3:00 p.m. Several members of the congregation were able to photograph these unusual lights. Cell phones texted others and soon thousands were headed toward this church.
That evening, “heavenly lights illuminated the church dome and towers” followed by the appearance of “large glowing doves” flying around the dome. This lasted from 10:00 p.m. until 5:00 a.m. at dawn and was seen by thousands who had gathered around the church to watch and photograph the spectacle. The lights and doves appeared every night until a week later on Tuesday, April 4, 2001. As the luminous doves glided overhead, the sounds of thousands chanting prayers and praises filled the streets.
When King Herod had ordered the killing of all children in Bethlehem, the Holy Family had fled Israel and come into Egypt. Assiut is where they spent the longest period of time – six months – and the farthest south that they had travelled.
The Bishop of Assiut confirmed these stories officially on April 6, 2001.