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In this heart-warming icon, Saints Mary and Joseph take the baby Jesus and escape the murderous intent of King Herod and humbly become refugees in a foreign land. To all iconographers, this image is the Neo-Coptic icon ‘par excellence’ as it bears some of the richest Egypt-related symbolism. To name a few: on the right of the icon the Egyptian god of truth and religion, Thoth, is symbolised by an Egyptian Ibis bird. He is shown either flapping his wings or bowing as he gladly ushers in the family and therefore the true mono-theistic religion. St Mary herself is dressed in a sky blue and arrayed with stars. In this she is likened to the Egyptian sky goddess Nut who was said to give birth to Ra, the sun god, at the beginning of each day. The parallel between Ra and Christ in this case is found in the book of Malachi 4:2 where it is said that the ‘sun of righteousness will arise with healing in his wings’ The river Nile, shown at the bottom of the icon, is depicted in the traditional style of the Ancient Egyptian painters; as zig zag lines. Lining its banks are often painted various plants which would normally live around or on the famous river – papyrus and lotus flowers. The Lotus in particular is a flower that carries ancient meaning. Since it appears to die when it closes at the end of each day, but then opens again at sunrise the Lotus is used an ancient symbol of rebirth and regeneration. Palm trees are also a key symbol in this icon. Even before Christ, palms had been considered a symbol of strength and resilience, owing to their impressive height and survival. In ancient cultures therefore palms were frequently used as symbols of victory, thus is seemed all too apt for Christ’s followers to usher in His victorious entry into Jerusalem by waving palms branches. In this icon the use of palm trees likewise ushers in the victorious King of Kings into Egypt.

Flight to Egypt

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