Visions of Mary, Our Lady of Light

Our Lady of Light is the patroness of Egypt.

The Coptic Church in Egypt celebrates thirty-two feast days in honor of the Virgin Mary. The last one of these falls on April 2 and commemorates Mary under her title of Our Lady of Light. The great majority of Egypt’s population is Muslim. The Copts are a Christian sect whose members did not convert when that country was invaded in the eighth century. They make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population. The Copts have a great reverence for the Holy Family since it was to Egypt that Joseph and Mary took the Infant Jesus to hide from Herod. One place where the family rested was Zeitoun near Cairo. When Mary appeared over the Coptic Church of Saint Mark on April 2, 1968, she was seen by a diverse religious crowd. Islamic tradition also has great reverence for Mary. A hadith of the Prophet Muhammad states, “Every child is touched by the devil as soon as he is born and this contact makes him cry. Excepted are Mary and her Son.” Like Catholics, the Muslims believe that Mary was a virgin when she conceived Jesus and that she was spiritually superior to all other humans. She is one of eight people who have their own chapter in the Koran. When Mary appeared in Egypt she was welcomed by Coptic Christians, the Protestant Church, the pope’s envoy, and the Muslim population.

On April 2, 1968, at 8:30 at night, the mechanics and bus drivers who worked out of the Public Transport Authority heard a disturbance in the street. A young woman dressed in white was on the dome of the Church of Saint Mark across from the garage. Frightened that she was about to kill herself, the Muslim mechanic implored her to be careful, while his compatriot ran to alert the priests. Since it was impossible to walk on the curved dome of the church, the onlookers gathering in the street were astounded to see the woman move onto the dome, bowing and kneeling in front of a cross. It was then that someone yelled out, “It is our Holy Mother Mary!” Cries of “Virgin Mary!” went up from the crowd. As the night sky darkened, the figure of Mary on the roof glowed luminously.

This was the start of a series of hundreds of apparitions that was to last three years. In all of them Mary remained silent but brought a sense of peace and harmony to the hundreds of thousands in the crowds who would gather to be with her. Not everyone in the crowd saw her, some saw only lights. Others, Muslims as well as Christians viewed her with great clarity. The apparitions became so well-known that they were even broadcast on Egyptian television to an audience of one million people. The Marxist president of Egypt, Abdul Nasser, was among the many political dignitaries who would stand in the street, waiting for Mary.

The Egyptian government went so far as to tear down buildings around the church to make room for the ever-expanding crowds. This silent apparition never appeared at the same time and would come two to three times a week. It was instantly declared a miracle by the Coptic Church when the first man who saw Mary, the mechanic from the garage, went the next day to have a gangrenous finger amputated. Doctors unwrapping his bandages were shocked to find his finger totally healed. Many nights the Virgin would bow to the crowd and bless it; sometimes she appeared with a baby in her arms; many times she waved an olive branch of peace; other times a luminous mist spread everywhere, giving off the scent of incense. A priest at the church has written, “I have seen the Virgin myself reflected against the surface of the moon whose disk got bigger as the moon got nearer to the church. The Virgin made her apparition carrying a babe in her arms.”

Another witness who watched from his brother’s apartment said, “I saw her twice. She was very tall, and she did not stand on the ground. She shone more than the moon, all completely white, sometimes with her arms together and sometimes with her arms outstretched. Every night there were doves, and doves, you know, do not fly at night.” A woman remembering the time of the apparitions said, “There were Muslims and Christians, and everyone was as one, one religion together.” Scientific studies were launched within a fifteen-mile radius of the church. It was thought that the apparition was being projected from somewhere, but no evidence of such an elaborate hoax was ever found. Pope Pius VI’s envoy, who witnessed several of the apparitions in the first month, recommended these visions as legitimate visits by Mary. They were widely reported in the newspapers, though not in the West. Several reasons were suggested for why Mary chose this time and place to appear. One was the disastrous defeat Egypt suffered in the 1967 Six Day War with Israel. Because of it, the Coptic holy sites in Jerusalem were off-limits to Egyptians. Not only was Mary soothing the people in their defeat, she was visiting them when they could not go to the Holy Land to visit her. Another reason was that Zeitoun had sheltered the Holy Family during their flight from Herod, and Mary was revisiting a place that had protected her.

The apparitions ended in 1971, when the Egyptian government started to charge admission to stand in the street. There are many black-and-white photographs of these
sightings, but original witnesses insist they serve as poor documentation of the luminous visions they remember.

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