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AtlasToursSinai (Egypt)

St. Catherines Monastery, Sinai (Egypt)

Located at the foot of Mount Moses (pbuh), St. Catherine's Monastery, was constructed by order of the Emperor Justinian between 527 and 565 AD. It is built around Moses' Burning Bush, which has a chapel built atop it.

St. Catherine who was tortured and beheaded for her Christian beliefs, lends her name to Sinai's center of religious tourism. A Sinai monk once had a vision of her body at the top of a nearby mountain named Mount Catherine which is the highest summit in Sinai, where her remains were discovered.

The Monastery of St. Catherine is one of the best known monasteries in the world - a Greek Orthodox holy place connected with the Prophet Moses (pbuh) and the exodus of the Jews from Egypt.

St. Catherines Monastery, Sinai

It is a spectacular natural setting for priceless works of art, including a wonderful Byzantine mosaic dating back to the 6th century, Arab mosaics, Greek and Russian icons, Western oil paintings, paintings on wax, fine sacerdotal ornaments, marbles, enamels, chalices, reliquaries, including one donated by Czar Alexander II in the 19th century, and another by Empress Catherine of Russia in the 17th century.

But of perhaps even greater significance is that it has the second largest collection of illuminated manuscripts after The Vatican. The collection consists of some 3,500 volumes in Greek, Coptic, Arabic, Armenian, Hebrew, Slavic, Syriac, Georgian and other languages. In 1844, a German scholar visiting the library discovered -- and then arguably stole -- the Codex Sinaiticus, an extremely important 4th century version of the Bible that now rests in the British Museum in London.

A 17th century icon showing historical events in SinaiAn icon showing St. Catherine and scenes of her martydom

The Monastery even has a small 10th or 11th century Fatimid mosque which was probably built to appease the Islamic authorities of the time. There is also a small chapel (the Chapel of St. Triphone, also known as the Skull House) which houses the skulls of deceased monks.

St. Catherine's has a rich history indeed. So rich that it is a sparkling example of an undiscovered jewel of travel. It has been called the oldest working Christian monastery, though St. Anthony's predates it, and the smallest diocese in the world.

The Monastery was originally ordered built by Empress Helen, the mother of Constantine the Great, but was actually built by Emperor Justinian to house the bones of St. Catherine of Alexandria. St. Catherine, whose body was reportedly carried away by angels, was discovered 500 years later at the top of the peek that now bears her name. Her relics are stored in a marble reliquary in the Basilica of the Transfiguration.

Site marking location of the Burning Bush

St. Catherine's is also a formidable fortification, with granite walls 40 to 200 feet tall, surrounded by gardens and cypresses. Prior to probably the 20th century, the only entrance to St. Catherine's was a small door 30 feet high, where provisions and people where lifted with a system of pulleys, and where food was often lowered to nomads.

It has withstood numerous attacks over its 14 hundred year existence thus protecting a rich store of art, and today, while it is one of the oldest monasteries in the world, its original, preserved state is unmatched.

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