Zeitoun, a suburb of Cairo, Egypt, was the site from 1968 to
1971 of some of the most spectacular sets of apparitions of the
Virgin Mary. She was seen not just by a few children as in most
of the reported apparitions in the last two centuries, but by
thousands of Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike. However, it
is also the case that the sightings appeared at a Coptic church,
rather than a Roman Catholic one, and that very little interest
in the apparitions has been demonstrated by Catholic authorities.
The apparitions began on the evening of April 2, 1968. Two
men, both Muslims, working in a garage across from the Coptic
Church of St. Mary in Zeitoun, saw what they first thought was
a nun standing on top of the central dome of the churchs roof.
Their initial thought was that she was about to commit suicide
by leaping off the dome. One went to get the priest and one an
emergency squad. Others began to gather, attracted by the
confusion. The woman on the dome rose to her feet and was
revealed as a being encompassed in brilliant light. A woman in
the crowd shouted out that it was the Virgin. Several objects
that appeared to be luminous birds fluttered around the lady.
One of the workmen who had originally seen the figure had a
wounded hand and was scheduled for surgery the next morning.
When he reported to the hospital, the doctors discovered
his hand had been healed.
The object on the church roof, soon believed by many to be
the Virgin, faded from sight after a while. It would be another
week before it reappeared. After that, the appearances varied.
For periods they would occur every night. Sometimes they
would be brief, and on occasion last as long as six or seven
hours. Most of the time she was alone. On occasion she had a
child in her arms or appeared with figures believed to be St. Joseph
and Jesus as a lad of 12. As many as 250,000 people
crowded the streets around the church and witnessed the Virgins
appearances. Eventually, a number of pictures of the phenomena
were taken. The last apparition occurred on May 29,
1971, at which pictures were taken.
The Coptic Church has made much of the apparitions and
of the many healings reported because of them. Stories of healing
have continued to the present. Because of the context, no
inquiry by the Roman Catholic Church of the kind that has accompanied
reported apparitions in Europe has been made.
However, the Coptic patriarch did order an inquiry and the
general information and complaints department of the Egyptian
government made an inquiry and report. During the apparitions,
Fr. Jerome Palmer, an American Benedictine monk,
went to Egypt and wrote one of the first accounts of the phenomena
by a Westerner. They have also become the subject of
ecumenical discussions between the Coptic patriarch and the
To date, no critical studies of the phenomena have appeared.
These sightings differ greatly from the more traditional
reported encounters with the Virgin that have been limited
to only a few people. They also involve the sighting of an object
that had enough solidity that it could be seen and photographed.
While no hint of fraud has appeared in the literature
about the phenomena, one must not rule out the possibility
that the sightings were staged, though the hows and whys are
Johnson, Francis. When Millions Saw Mary. Chulmleigh,
Devon, UK Augustine Publishing, 1980.
Palmer, Jerome. Our Lady Returns to Egypt. San Bernardino,
Calif. Culligan Book Co., 1969.