Saint Catherine's Monastery officially "Sacred Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount Sinai" is an Eastern Orthodox monastery located on the Sinai Peninsula, at the mouth of a gorge at the foot of Mount Sinai, near the town of Saint Catherine, Egypt. The monastery is named after Catherine of Alexandria. The monastery is controlled by the autonomous Church of Sinai, part of the wider Greek Orthodox Church, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built between 548 and 565, the monastery is one of the oldest working Christian monasteries in the world. The site contains the world's oldest continually operating library, possessing many unique books including the Syriac Sinaiticus and, until 1859, the Codex Sinaiticus.
Mount Sinai is a popular pilgrimage site and home to the world heritage listed Monastery of St. Catherine, a Greek Orthodox monastery founded in the 6th century, one of the longest-running monasteries in the world and itself at the supposed location of the Burning Bush. The small town of al-Minya, outside the entrance to the valley, has sprung up to cater to tourists.
According to tradition, Catherine of Alexandria was a Christian martyr sentenced to death on the breaking wheel. When this failed to kill her, she was beheaded. According to tradition, angels took her remains to Mount Sinai. Around the year 800, monks from the Sinai Monastery found her remains.
Although it is commonly known as Saint Catherine's, the monastery's full official name is the Sacred Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount Sinai. The patronal feast of the monastery is the Feast of the Transfiguration. The monastery has become a favorite site of pilgrimage.
The Saint Catherine monastery is located in the shadow of a group of three mountains; Ras Sufsafeh "Mount Horeb" (peak c.1km west), Jebel Arrenziyeb and Jebel Musa "Biblical Mount Sinai" (peak c.2km south). The oldest record of monastic life at Sinai comes from the travel journal written in Latin by a woman named Egeria about 381–384. She visited many places around the Holy Land and Mount Sinai, where, according to the Old Testament, Moses received the Ten Commandments from God.
History of the Saint Catherine Monastery
Saint Catherine Monastery is one of the oldest monasteries in the world, founded sometime in the early 4th century. According to the 9th century chronicles of patriarch Eutychios of Alexandria, the monastery was founded in 324 by emperor Helena who visited monks living in the mountains. The monastery was also mentioned in the diaries of a nun, Etheria of Galicia, who visited towards the end of the 4th century.
The monastery got its current form between 548 and 564 when the East Roman emperor Justinian I according to the wishes of the monks built the fortification and stationed a force to protect the monastery. Some of the monks still opted to continue living outside the walls. During this period the main church of the site was constructed. A century later, the remains of Catherine of Alexandria was found at the nearby mountain nowadays known as Mount Catherine. She was the daughter of a Cypriot king who refused to abandon her faith and to marry the pagan Roman emperor Maxentius and was therefore tortured and beheaded in 305. The remains were brought to the monastery, which was also renamed after her.
Also the future prophet Muhammed visited the monastery several times, and later on he guaranteed the protection of the monastery. Only in the 11th century the caliph Al-Hakim threatened to destroy the monastery, and between the 15th and 18th centuries the monks were indeed expelled numerous times but the monastery itself was never destroyed.
1575 the monastery was declared independent from Rome, at that time St. Catherine was the site of an archdiocese. Later on, under the guardianship of the Russian czar, a Greek-Orthodox monastery was established. Nowadays the monastery is juridically a part of the patriarchate of Jerusalem.
The Monastery of St. Catherine at the foot of the mountain, is the easier of the two destinations here. Looking more like a fortress than a church, access is through a massive iron gate shut for the night and opened in the morning from 9AM to noon only (daily except Friday and Sunday). Note that the monastery observes the Greek Orthodox rites and is thus also closed for Christmas and Easter as calculated by the Greek Orthodox calendar. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2002.
St. Catherine has quite a few camps, guesthouses and hotels. As mentioned above, it's also possible to rent mattresses and sheets on the mountain.
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