The Bagawat cemetery of ancient tombs in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, was blessed by the Virgin Mary during the Holy Family’s journey.
The Bagawat cemetery…The oldest Christian cemeteries
The Bagawat cemetery in the Kharga Oasis is the oldest Christian cemetery. The tombs and shrines in the Bajwat cemetery, which number about 263, vary between small individual rooms and large family rooms. The Bajwat cemetery was built on the ruins of an ancient Egyptian cemetery, where the tombs included ancient Egyptian and Coptic artistic styles. The use of the cemetery began in the fourth century AD and continued until the eleventh century AD.
The cemetery is made up of a large number of domed mud brick mausoleums and underground tunnels. The chapels were laid out in “streets” and interconnected by small passageways, creating one of the first “cities of the dead.” Each superstructure was built over a deep hole beneath the floor level that housed shelves for coffins and burial materials.
The early Christian burial custom continued in the same way as the ancient Egyptian burial custom, by burying the dead in coffins accompanied by their funerary belongings, which were placed on shelves inside pits under the shrines. The embalming custom continued in the cemetery after stopping in the Nile Valley.
Most chapels were simple and consisted of a single room erected above the burial shaft, but some were considerably more complex and had plastered walls with painted biblical themes in a peculiar blend of styles, while others had characteristics evocative of ancient Egyptian architecture.
One of the oldest shrines in the cemetery is the Exodus shrine, which includes a dome decorated with two bands that include scenes from the Old Testament, the most famous of which are scenes from the Exodus, for which the shrine was named. We see the Prophet Moses leading the children of Israel across the Sinai desert while Pharaoh’s army pursued him. We see scenes from the stories of Adam and Eve, the ark of the Prophet Noah, the Prophet Daniel in the den of the lions, the Prophet Jonah and the whale, and other scenes from the Old Testament.
As for the shrine of peace, its dome was decorated with similar and new scenes, such as the Annunciation of the Virgin and other scenes that we know by describing them in Greek terms below. As for the interior walls, they were decorated with many Byzantine motifs executed in the fresco style, such as vineyards, peacocks, symbolic figures, and inscriptions.
There are a number of Arabic and Turkish writings on some of the shrines that date back to the ninth century AD, including the writings of some Turkish soldiers who are believed to have been stationed in barracks in the cemetery during the eighteenth century.