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Saint Catherine Monastery

Explore the timeless allure of Saint Catherine Monastery at Mount Sinai in Egypt. Discover its rich historical significance, ancient manuscripts rivaling the Vatican, and a treasure trove of religious art, making it a pivotal pilgrimage site at the base of the sacred mountain.

Saint Catherine Monastery - Egypt Tours Portal
Overview
Saint Catherine Monastery
Location Sinai Peninsula of Egypt
Established AD 565
Founder Justinian I
Type Cultural
Criteria i, iii, iv, vi

Summary

  • Saint Catherine Monastery, nestled at Mount Sinai's foot in Egypt, dates back to Emperor Justinian I's commission in 565 AD. It's believed to be where Moses encountered the burning bush and received the Ten Commandments.
  • The monastery holds immense importance for Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, witnessing historical transformations like the addition of a mosque during the Fatimid Caliphate.
  • It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site, housing a unique citadel, a 6th-century church by the Burning Bush, and a vast library with ancient manuscripts, rivaling even the Vatican's collection.
  • Saint Catherine's boasts the oldest operating library globally, preserving treasures like the Codex Sinaiticus, Christian Palestinian Aramaic texts, and an array of artistic masterpieces, including icons dating back to the 5th and 6th centuries.
  • Over centuries, the monastery has attracted pilgrims and scholars due to its religious, historical, and architectural significance, making it a gateway to heavenly art and a vital pilgrimage site at the base of Mount Sinai.

One of the oldest continually functioning monastic communities in the world is Saint Catherine monastery, where the all-mighty looked upon Egypt and delivered a message of grace and love to one of his loyal subjects on top of one of the heist points in Egypt. Over the centuries, the place became the center for miracles, including the great Saint Catherine Monastery, one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Egypt.

In the Saint Catherine Monastery article, you will discover an ancient bastion of history located at the foot of Mount Sinai in Egypt. This venerable sanctuary continues to captivate visitors with its timeless allure, offering a glimpse into centuries of religious devotion and cultural significance.

History of Saint Catherine Monastery

History of Saint Catherine Monastery - Egypt Tours Portal
History of Saint Catherine Monastery - Egypt Tours Portal

Emperor Justinian I (527–565 AD) commissioned the construction of the Sacred Autonomous Royal Monastery of Saint Catherine of the Holy and God-Trodden Mount Sinai around 565 AD which encompasses the Chapel of the Burning Bush attributed to Empress Helena. This chapel is believed to be where Moses encountered the burning bush and received the Ten Commandments. The living bush found on the premises is thought to be the same one witnessed by Moses.

The site holds immense importance for Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. It saw the creation of a mosque by transforming an existing chapel at the time of the Fatimid Caliphate. The monastery endured various historical periods, surviving the decline during the Ottoman Empire but restored in the early days of the 20th century. The monastery used to be the home to Christian hermits who stood as the sole remaining bastion after their elimination during the 7th century. Its survival was ensured by robust fortifications, accessed through a high door until the 20th century. The presence of Crusaders between the First Crusade and 1270 AD attracted European Christians, which fostered increased pilgrimages.

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The monastery and its surrounding dependencies form the Church of Sinai which is overseen by an archbishop who doubles as the monastery's abbot. The church's exact status within the Eastern Orthodox Church remains uncertain; some consider it autocephalous, while others view it as an autonomous church under the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem. The archbishop receives consecration from the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem in recent centuries, who often resided in Cairo. During the Crusades which was marked by tension between Catholic and Orthodox churches, the monastery received patronage from Byzantine emperors and Kingdom of Jerusalem rulers and their honorable courts. Saint Catherine's Monastery was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002.

Location of Saint Catherine Monastery and How to Get It

Saint Catherine Monastery is found in Sinia Peninsula at the base of Mount Sinai which is located at the altitude of five thousand feet above sea level within a narrow valley just north of the mountain. Next to the monastery are three mountains which are near it, and they are Ras Sufsafeh "Mount Horeb" Jebel Arrenziyeb, and Mount Sinia. Through booking with a travel agency, everyone will enjoy a seasoned tour guide, an up-to-date vehicle, and a skilled driver who will offer some of the most incredible facts.

Geography of Saint Catherine Monastery

Geography of Saint Catherine Monastery - Egypt Tours Portal
Geography of Saint Catherine Monastery - Egypt Tours Portal

Saint Catherine's is a Greek Orthodox located on Mount Sinai at an altitude of 1500 m (5000 ft) above sea level within a narrow valley just north of Mount Musa in the Sinai Peninsula. Set Beneath the mountain where the prophet Moses is believed to have received the Ten Commandments.

Saint Catherine's Monastery sits amidst three majestic mountains: Ras Sufsafeh, believed to be the biblical Mount Horeb and located about 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) to the west; Jebel Arrenziyeb, reaching its peak approximately 1 kilometer southward; and Mount Sinai, also known locally as Jebel Musa, traditionally linked to the biblical Mount Sinai and situated around 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) to the south of the monastery. These towering peaks form a stunning and sacred natural backdrop to the monastery's historical, religious, and cultural significance.

Origin And Name of Saint Catherine Monastery

Origin And Name of Saint Catherine Monastery - Egypt Tours Portal
Origin And Name of Saint Catherine Monastery - Egypt Tours Portal

This Greek Orthodox monastery's original name was the Sacred Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount Sinai and the Monastery of the Transfiguration, but later on, it became connected with St. Catherine of Alexandria, who is a 3rd-century martyr who was tortured to death by her father for succeeding in converting 50 of his followers to Christianity in 307 AD. St. Catherine's Monastery became a major pilgrimage destination in the Byzantine Era even till its own current day.

Places of Interest In Saint Catherine Monastery

Places of Interest In Saint Catherine Monastery - Egypt Tours Portal
Places of Interest In Saint Catherine Monastery - Egypt Tours Portal

Saint Catherine's monastery is a defining feature of the Holy Land; within its great wall lies a unique citadel that is incredibly important and rich in religious and historical facts. One of its grand treasures is a massive library containing ancient manuscripts and icons second only to the Vatican itself and a 6th-century church located directly on the side of the Burning Bush.

The Monastery's great Library consists of the biggest and most significant of its type on the planet; the library contains a rich collection of 4,500 manuscripts, mainly Greek, plus Arabic, Coptic, Syriac, Slavonic, and more, plus a considerable number of printed books. About 5,000 of these are old editions, some of which even date to the earlier days of the discovery of printing.

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It holds an impressive collection of irreplaceable works of art, mosaics, and early icons. Inside the church lies El-Mouta church (the church of the dead), plus six wells, four springs, and a large garden filled with fruit trees of various kinds and two mills.

Manuscripts In Saint Catherine Monastery

Manuscripts In Saint Catherine Monastery - Egypt Tours Portal
Manuscripts In Saint Catherine Monastery - Egypt Tours Portal

Saint Catherine's Monastery boasts the oldest continually operating library globally which was established between 548 and 565 AD. This esteemed library houses the second-biggest collection of ancient manuscripts and codices worldwide, second only to the Vatican Library. Among its treasures are texts in Greek, Georgian, Syriac, Armenian, Church Slavonic, Arabic, Ethiopic/Ge‘ez, Christian Palestinian Aramaic, Latin, and Caucasian Albanian languages, including rare Hebrew and Coptic books. In 1844 and 1859, the monastery unearthed the Codex Sinaiticus which is a nearly complete Bible manuscript dating back to the 4th century, initially believed to be the oldest. The Codex Sinaiticus found its way to the British Library in London.

Between 1855 and 1857 AD, valuable manuscripts of Christian Palestinian Aramaic, Greek, Georgian, and Syriac were discovered, which are presently housed in museums located in Leipzig and St. Petersburg. In 1892, an early Gospel manuscript, known as the Syriac Sinaiticus, was discovered in the monastery's library. In 1893, the first catalogs of the Syriac and Arabic manuscripts were made by scholar Agnes S. Lewis. The monastery is also home to the Ashtiname of Muhammad, which is an ancient document that claims the Islamic prophet Muhammad provided protection to the monastery. Additionally, it contains Mok'c'evay K'art'lisay, which is a compilation of supplementary books from the Kartlis Cxovreba, which dates back to the 9th century.

Works of Art at Saint Catherine Monastery

Works of Art at Saint Catherine Monastery - Egypt Tours Portal
Works of Art at Saint Catherine Monastery - Egypt Tours Portal

The complex houses an invaluable array of artistic treasures known as mosaics, regarded as one of the world's most exceptional compilations of early icons. Among these are numerous encaustic pieces alongside significant religious artifacts like reliquaries, chalices, and church edifices. The extensive collection of icons traces back to the 5th and 6th centuries, showcasing unique pieces that have survived through time. The monastery has remained unexcavated by Byzantine iconoclasm, plus it has never faced plundering. One of the most ancient icons depicting a theme of the Old Testament is carefully preserved within the monastery. Since the 1960s, efforts have been underway to meticulously catalog these priceless collections.

The monastery served as a pivotal hub for the evolution of Crusader art, nurturing a distinctive hybrid style. It houses an impressive collection of over 120 icons crafted in this unique fashion, constituting the largest such compilation in existence. This remarkable assortment is believed to have been predominantly fashioned by Latin artisans, quite possibly monks, who were associated with or resided in the monastery during the 13th century. 

One of the most beautiful pieces of art and Icons include:

  • Icon of the enthroned Virgin and Child with saints and angels, 6th century
  • The oldest known icon of Christ, Pantocrator, encaustic on panel
  • Crucifixion, 13th century
  • Holy doors
  • Madonna and Child, 13th century
  • 13th-century Byzantine icon of Saint Michael the Archangel
  • Transfiguration, 12th century
  • Ladder of Divine Ascent
  • Emperor John VIII Palaiologos
  • Icon of Saint Catherine of Alexandria
  • The monastery, 18th century
  • Christ as the Ancient of Days, 7th century

Interesting Facts about Saint Catherine Monastery

Facts about Saint Catherine Monastery - Egypt Tours Portal
Facts about Saint Catherine Monastery - Egypt Tours Portal
  • St Catherine Monastery was founded in the 6th century, around 548-565 AD, and was considered one of the oldest working Christian monasteries in the world. It was built at the site believed to be the burning bush from the biblical story of Moses.
  • The monastery has stood the test of time; it has been a haven for monks and pilgrims and has been preserved remarkably well over centuries. Saint Catherine's Monastery was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002. Its significance lies not only in its religious importance but also in its architectural and historical value.
  • The monastery houses an exceptional collection of religious and historical artifacts. It contains a library with a vast collection of ancient manuscripts and documents, including the Codex Sinaiticus, one of the oldest surviving complete manuscripts of the Bible.
  • The monastery has been a site of interaction between different cultures and religions that reflect a unique blend of influences from Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.
  • The monastery's architecture showcases a blend of Byzantine and Eastern Orthodox styles. Its defensive walls were constructed for protection against invaders.
  • The monastery is situated at the base of Mount Sinai, which is believed to be the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments. Many pilgrims visit both the monastery and the mountain, making it an important pilgrimage site.

Book Your Trip to Saint Catherine

Saint Catherine's monastery is a gate to the heavens containing true works of heavenly art that spread joy and wonder inside every traveler who explores its surroundings and constructions. If you are close to the mountain top, reach for paradise and book an Egypt tour of this immortal wonder.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is Saint Catherine's Monastery Known for?

Saint Catherine monastery is found at the foot of Sinia Mount, which has earned the title of being one of the oldest working Christian monasteries on earth, which was built in the 6th century. It's known to be the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments from god thus making it the ideal place for religious tourism. It houses some of the most religious and historical artifacts that come in the shape of manuscripts, icons, and religious art.

Is St Catherine's Monastery Worth Visiting?

Saint Catherine Monastery is totally worth visiting, where everyone will get to cast their eyes on history, religion, and ancient artifacts. The monument is a very historical and cultural wonder which holds a marvelous landscape of natural beauty.

Why Was a Mosque Built in St Catherine's Monastery?

The Mosque of Nabi Harun was built within the monastery complex due to the belief that this site is also where the brother of Moses Aaron was buried.

Is It Safe to Visit St Catherine Monastery?

The St Catherine monastery is considered to be very safe to visit, and everyone will get to enjoy the bliss and beauty of Sinia.

What Religion is St Catherine's Monastery?

The monastery is associated with Christianity, specifically the Eastern Orthodox Church. Its location and historical significance make it a revered site for multiple religions, including Judaism and Islam.

How Long is St Catherine's Hill Walk?

It takes around 2-3 hours to ascend and descend the hill walk of St Catherine monastery.

Why is St Catherine's Monastery Sacred to Judaism and Christianity?

St Catherine Monastery is the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments plus biblical figures like Moses and Aaron. The presence of the burning bush is a very powerful symbol in both religions.

What Are the Finest Destinations to Visit in Egypt?

The entire country of Egypt deserve to be explored with its every heavenly detail but there are places that must be seen before any other such as the breathtaking Hurghada's red sea, The wonders of Cairo the pyramids of Giza, the great sphinx, the Egyptian Museum, Khan El Khalili Bazaar, the wonders of Luxor like Valley of the Kings, Karnak & Hatshepsut temple and the wonders of Aswan such as Abu Simbel temples, Philea temple, Unfinished obelisk and The Wonders of Alexandria like Qaitbat Citadel, Pompey's Pillar and Alexandria Library. Read more about the best places to visit in Egypt.

What Are Egypt's Visa Requirements?

If you want to apply for a Visa On Arrival that lasts for 30 days then you should be one of the eligible countries, have a valid passport with at least 6 months remaining and pay 25$ USD in cash, as for the E-Visa for 30 day you should have a valid passport for at least 8 months, complete the online application, pay the e-visa fee then print the e-visa to later be presented to the airport border guard. You could also be one of the lucky ones who can obtain a free visa for 90 days. Read more about Egypt travel visa.

What Is the Top Traditional Egyptian Food?

Egypt has a variety of delicious cuisines but we recommend “Ful & Ta’meya (Fava Beans and Falafel)”, Mulukhiya, “Koshary”, a traditional Egyptian pasta dish, and Kebab & Kofta, the Egyptian traditional meat dish.

What is the Best Time to Visit Egypt?

The best time to travel to Egypt is during the winter from September to April as the climate becomes a little tropical accompanied by a magical atmosphere of warm weather with a winter breeze. You will be notified in the week of your trip if the Climate is unsafe and if any changes have been made.

What to Pack for Your Egypt Tour?

You should pack everything you could ever need in a small bag so you could move easily between your destinations.

Why Book With "Egypt Tours Portal"?

We have been creating the finest vacations for more than 20 years around the most majestic destinations in Egypt. Our staff consists of the best operators, guides and drivers who dedicate all of their time & effort to make you have the perfect vacation. All of our tours are customized by Travel, Financial & Time consultants to fit your every possible need during your vacation. It doesn't go without saying that your safety and comfort are our main priority and all of our resources will be directed to provide the finest atmosphere until you return home.

Is it Safe to Travel to Egypt?

You will feel safe in Egypt as the current atmosphere of the country is quite peaceful after the government took powerful measures like restructuring the entire tourist police to include all the important and tourist attractions in Egypt. Read more about is it safe to travel to Egypt.

What to Wear While in Egypt?

Wear whatever feels right and comfortable. It is advised to wear something light and comfortable footwear like a closed-toe shoe to sustain the terrain of Egypt. Put on sun block during your time in Egypt in the summer to protect yourself from the sun.

What are the Best Activities to Do in Egypt?

The best activity is by far boarding a Nile Cruise between Luxor and Aswan or Vise Versa. Witness the beauty of Egypt from a hot balloon or a plane and try all the delicious Egyptian cuisines and drinks plus shopping in old Cairo. Explore the allure and wonders of the red sea in the magical city resorts of Egypt like Hurghada and many more by diving and snorkeling in the marine life or Hurghada. Behold the mesmerizing western desert by a safari trip under the heavenly Egyptian skies.

What are Egypt Festival and Public Holidays?

There are a lot of public holidays in Egypt too many to count either religious or nation, the most important festivals are the holy month of Ramadan which ends with Eid Al Fitr, Christmas and new years eve. Read more about festivals & publich holidays in Egypt.

What are Special Advice for Foreign Women in Egypt?

Egypt is considered to be one of the most liberal Islamic countries but it has become a little bit conservative in the last couple of decades so it is advised to avoid showing your chest, shoulders or legs below the knees.

What are the Official Languages of Egypt?

Arabic is the official language and Most Egyptians, who live in the cities, speak or understand English or at least some English words or phrases. Fewer Egyptians can speak French, Italian, Spanish, and German. Professional tour guides, who work in the tourism sector, are equipped to handle visitors who cannot speak Arabic and they will speak enough English and other languages to fulfill the needs of all our clients.

What is the Transportation in Egypt?

The fastest way is a car, of course, a taxi. If you are in Cairo ride a white taxi to move faster or you could board the fastest way of transportation in Egypt metro if the roads are in rush hour.

What is the Weather is Like?

The temperature in Egypt ranges from 37c to 14 c. Summer in Egypt is somehow hot but sometimes it becomes cold at night and winter is cool and mild. The average of low temperatures vary from 9.5 °C in the wintertime to 23 °C in the summertime and the average high temperatures vary from 17 °C in the wintertime to 32 °C in the summertime. The temperature is moderate all along the coasts.

What are the Reasons That Make You Visit Egypt?

It is the home of everything a traveler might be looking for from amazing historical sites dating to more than 4000 years to enchanting city resorts & beaches. You will live the vacation you deserve as Egypt has everything you could possibly imagine.

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