The Church of the Holy Virgin lies on top of Gabal “Mount” al-Tayr, adjacent to the River Nile, in al-Minya in Middle Egypt. It is considered one of the most important places visited by the Holy Family during the Flight into Egypt, second only to the Muharraq Monastery. It was built in 328 AD by Empress Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, the first Byzantine emperor to convert to Christianity.
Gabal al-Tayr gets its name from tayr “bird” from the vast number of birds living and nesting there. It is also known as Gabal al-Kaff “Mountain of the Palm (of the hand)” and Deir al-Bakara “The Monastery of the Pulley”.
The church is carved entirely out of the rock. It is probably a repurposed ancient Egyptian or Roman tomb. Decorative friezes incorporating flora, fauna, and human forms adorn the area above the western entrance. The church follows the early Christian basilical plan, consisting of a nave with two side aisles, a western return aisle, and three ambulatory shrines.
Gabal al-Tayr is one of the more important pilgrimage destinations. The Feast of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin is celebrated here on the 22nd of August, when people from all around Egypt flock to attend the church during the festival.