Egypt’s holiest monastery is now also home to one of the largest statues of the Virgin Mary in the world.
Located at the Virgin Mary Monastery in the village of Durunka, some 250 miles from the capital Cairo, the statue stands at 28-feet in height atop a 46-foot pedestal.
The bronze statue is the work of Gerges al-Gawly, formerly the head of the sculpture department at the nearby Minia University. The mammoth landmark — inspired by an image of Our Lady of Lebanon in Harissa east of Beirut — was commissioned by Bishop Yoanes of Asyut.
By comparison, it is smaller than the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, which stands at 98 feet in height. The world’s tallest statue of the Virgin Mary, meanwhile, stands at 322 feet and is located in Batangas City, Philippines.
This latest statue recalls the apparition of the Virgin Mary on Aug. 17, 2000 at St. Mark’s Church in Asyut, which was validated by Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria.
While the project took two years, the statue itself was erected in just three months. The statue, divided into 20 sections, were transported from a foundry in Cairo to Asyut. It was assembled on the site to mark the start on Aug. 7 of the Coptic Orthodox Fast of the Virgin. During the 15-day celebration, the 11 million Copts in Egypt and their diaspora ask Mary for her intercession throughout the coming year.
Egyptian Copts are the biggest Christian community in the Arab world. Estimates of their numbers vary, but generally range between 4.7 and 7.1 million.
Tens of thousands of Coptic pilgrims visit the Virgin Mary Monastery each year. It is traditionally one of the final stops in the Holy Family Trail. As recounted in the New Testament, Joseph and Mary fled from Bethlehem with their newborn son to escape from the massacre of babies by King Herod.
The Holy Family Trail is currently being developed by the country’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture, as a means of promoting cultural and religious tourism in Egypt.
The project involves infrastructure improvements at the 25 sites and shrines at which the Holy Family stopped. The trail also symbolizes Egypt’s status as a country with a predominantly Sunni Muslim population that also features one the largest Christian populations in the Arab world.