Egypt : St Katherine Monastery

Saint Katherine Monastery

St Katherine Monastery

The monastery of St Katherine was built on a Greek Orthodox foundation in 337 BC by empress Helena. It was later fortified in the 6th century by emperor Justinian to protect it from the raiders. It is situated at the foothills of Mt. Sinai and houses 22 monks (according to one of them who took us around for a guided trip). The monastery has within its boundaries two of the most important biblical symbols : a descendent of the original burning bush through which God talked to Moses and the actual Moses' well. Moreover, just outside its premises are the manna garden and the site where the golden calf was worshiped.
Burning Bush
Burning Bush

A descendant of the Burning Bush of Moses

The patron saint of the monastery, St Katherine, was born in 294 AD in Alexandria, converted to Christianity and opposed the pagan culture of the Roman emperor. The emperor had her beheaded and it is said that the angels carried her remains to the top of Mt. Katherine (the highest peak in Egypt) where it was found in the 10th century.

Church of St Catherine

The monastery contains a granite basilica, St Catherine Church built by Justinian in the 6th century. The decorations of its inside, especially the roof, has lot of Islamic and Turkish influence because it was during the Ottoman's time when the church was last renovated. The main nave of the church has 12 pillars, one for each month of the year. Each pillar supports a portrait of the monks who died during that particular month.

Church of St Catherine

Saint Katherine Church

The recently opened museum in the monastery exhibits some of its priceless collection of ancient books and gold artefacts. The museum also contains the original letter from Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) guaranteeing its security. One of the greatest possessions of the monastery, Codex Sinaiticus - one of the oldest and most complete ccopies of the bible - was stolen from it by a German scholar who sold it to the Czar of Russia. And like many things which gets stolen around the world, the bible also found its way to the British Museum.

The entrance ticket to the museum also allows ones entry to the back of the St Catherine Church and to visit the original mosaic and the three chapels from the 3rd century viz., the chapel of the burning bush, chapel of James and the chapel of 40 monks whom attained martyrdom in the 4th century. The church also houses the bones of its patron saint St Katherine which is taken out for public display once every year sometime at the end of November during its yearly festival.

Click here for more photos from Mt. Sinai and St Katherine monastery.
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