ST. CATHERINE'S MONASTERY    

The monastery of St. Catherine is an Orthodox monastic center with a continuous life since the 6 th century.

It has stood for almost 1600 years in the heart of the Sinai desert, on the spot of the Burning Bush where God first spoke to Moses at the foot of the God-trod Mount of Sinai, and has preserved its special character since its erection in the era of Justinian (527-565 AD).

 
 
   
 

Prophet Mohammed , Arab Caliphs, Turkish sultans, and Napoleon all took the Monastery under their protection, thereby preserving it from pillage.

It has never in its long history been conquered, looted or destroyed, and has through the ages kept its image as a sacred Biblical site, where the symbolic meaning of the events of the Old Testament is illuminated and interpreted in the worship of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary.

 
The yearning to be near God and far from the persecutions of pagan Rome brought many early Egyptian Christians to Sinai in search of tranquility, silence, isolation, and holiness. From the 3rd century AD onwards, Monks settled in small monastic communities near sacred places around Mt. Horeb, such as the site of the Burning Bush, Feran Oasis and in other places in southern Sinai.  
 
 

This was the same movement that brought others to the Holy Land, to the scorched mountains of the Judean Desert, in quest of holiness.

The first Monks suffered constant privations. Nature was unkind to man, and many fell prey to marauding nomads. But the monks continued to trickle into Sinai. By and Large the first monks were hermits who lived alone in caves in utter poverty, praying alone and were self-sufficient, except for holy days when they gathered near the site of the Burning Bush in order to listen to their spiritual leaders and to receive the Holy Communion.

 
In 337 AD, Empress Helena of Rome ordered the construction of a sanctuary around the site of the Burning Bush, that was to attract thousands of pilgrims and hermits in search of safety during the persecutions of the Christians by Rome. However, the continuous attacks by neighboring nomadic tribes led Justinian, emperor of Byzantium to convert the sanctuary into a fortress-monastery in the 6 th century. He dispatched one of the court architects, Stefanos of Aila, to build this fortified enclosure that still survives 16 turbulent centuries later.  
 
 

It stands not only as one of the vivid links to early Christianity, but as a monument to the vanished world of Byzantium.

According to one account, failure to build the fort on top of the mountain displeased the emperor so much that he had the architect beheaded.

 
Emperor Justinian assigned prisoners and slaves from Egypt and present-day Romania to do the construction work. After completing the monastery they were set free and lived as nomads wandering in the neighborhood of the monastery and continued to serve the monks. Their descendants form the present-day tribe of Jebeleya who still dwell in the high mountain range around the monastery and still serve it.
 
t. Catherine’s has been a center of Christian worship and thought for over 1600 years, containing one of the world’s most ancient and important libraries, its over 3000 manuscripts in Greek, Arabic, Syriac, Georgian, Armenian, Slovonic and Latin recall sixteen centuries of Christianity. Unfortunately the Codex Sinaiticus – a bible dating back to the 4th century – was taken from the Monastery in 1844 by Konstantin von Tischendorf, a German scholar who sold it to the Tsar of Russia.  
 

St. Catherine's is a formidable fortification, with granite walls 40 to 200 feet tall, surrounded by gardens and cypresses. From an architectural point of view, the entire compound is typically Byzantine in style with its thick high surrounding walls. Pilgrims and suppliers were transported into the monastery by means of a basket and pulley. Such security measures were necessary due to the perils of outsider attacks in former centuries.

 

 
  The interior is equally mysterious and impressive with its narrow passages and steep staircases leading to different levels on each floor. Apart from the many chapels and bronze bells, the monastery contains a beautiful 6 th century church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It is separated from the Burning Bush area and the Shrine of St. Catherine of Alexandria (the monastery's patroness ) by an impressive 17 th century iconostasis.
The monastery also houses one of the richest collections of silver lamps and a huge collection of icons dating back to the 5 th and 6 th centuries. Throughout its history the monastery has received gifts from popes, Christian princes and most of all from the Russian tsars who considered themselves the natural successors of the Byzantine emperors

 

 

 

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