Saint Catherine’s monastery in the Sinai Desert is one of the oldest constantly working monasteries in the world, a place of uninterrupted prayer and worship since its founding in the 6th century.
|St. Catherine's Monastery|
St. Catherine's was built on the site where Moses saw the burning bush and original still grows here today. Above the monastery is Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. Because God spoke to Moses in these places, this area is sacred to three world religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
The monastery itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
|View of St. Catherine's from the mountains above|
The geographical locations of these biblical events are not known and a wide variety of theories have been offered by scholars. No particular evidence supports the site on which the monastery is built nor for the peak identified as Mount Sinai. However, the attachment of early Christian monks to these sites is not without significance.
In the early 4th century, St. Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, built the Chapel of the Burning Bush at the site where Moses is supposed to have seen the miracle.
|View from outside the heavily fortified walls of St. Catherine's Monastery|
The fortified walls were built around the chapel by the Byzantine emperor and great church-builder Justinian (who also commissioned the Hagia Sophia) starting in 527. The Church of the Transfiguration was completed by Justinian's workers in the 560s, around the time of his death.
|The Basilica of the Transfiguration, the main church of the monastery. It was constructed in 527 and commissioned by Emperor Justinian.|
The monastery's actual name is the Monastery of the Transfiguration, but it later became associated with St. Catherine of Alexandria, a 3rd-century martyr whose head and hand were brought here for safe keeping in the 10th century. St. Catherine's Monastery became a major pilgrimage destination in the Byzantine Era and it still is today.
Mount Sinai is also revered by Muslims as Jebel Musa (Mount Moses), the place where God handed down his Law. In 623, a document signed by the Prophet Muhammad himself, the Actiname (Holy Testament), exempted the Christian monks of St. Catherine's from the usual taxes and military service and commanded that Muslims provide the community with every help. In recognition of this gesture, the St. Catherine's monks permitted the conversion of a small Crusader chapel within the monastery to a mosque between 1101 and 1106 during the Fatimid Caliphate (909-1171).
|The Fatimid mosque|
Close to the monastery church is a bright, white tower. This is the minaret of the only mosque within a monastic enclosure. The Fatimid Mosque, still used by the monks, Bedouin grounds-keepers and neighbors, was in regular use until Mameluke rule in the later 13th century, when it was neglected until its restoration in the early 20th century. It must be one of the oldest mosques in the world.
|Side view of the Basilica of the Transfiguration, from near the tower|
In 2002, the area centering on St. Catherine's Monastery was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO because of Mt. Sinai's importance in three major world religions, the natural environment of the area and St. Catherine's historic architecture and art.
If you ask me, absolutely the most impressive at St. Catherine's is the library :) It is the oldest library in the Christian world and preserves the second largest collection of early codices and manuscripts in the world (outnumbered only by the Vatican Library). Its collection includes more than 3000 manuscripts and more than 5000 early religious books.
|The library at Saint Catherine's Monastery|
The library also has a precious collection of more than 2000 icons of Christ, Mary and the saints, displayed in a special gallery. These represent almost every school of Byzantine iconography from the 6th to the 18th century.
|Mountain landscape near St. Catherine's Monastery|
Many visitors to St. Catherine's Monastery also make the hike (or the camel ride) to the summit of Mount Sinai (2285m), a.k.a. Mount Moses or Mount Horeb. This is identified as the mountain where Moses received the Tablets of the Law from God. The main route to the summit is known as the Path of Moses (Arabic:Sikket Sayidna Musa) and is lined with remains of various chapels.
This spectacular place definitely deserves a place in your trip -holiday list and for sure prepare to be dazzled:)