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St. Catherine Monastery


Set beneath the mountain where Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments, Saint Catherine Monastery has been one of the world’s great centers of religious pilgrimage for over fifteen centuries. Within its impose of walls rests a citadel like no other, incredibly rich in important religious and historical structures, Among its treasures is a library of ancient manuscripts and icons second only to the Vatican’s itself, and a 6th century church reputed to lie directly on the site of the Burning Bush. Quite simply, the monastery is a defining feature of the Holy Land.


It is the greatest monastery in Africa and its construction goes back to the 4th century AD. It lies in the foothills of Moses Mountain 5012 feet above sea level, built by Emperor Justinian for himself and his wife. The Monastery was named after Saint Catherine “the daughter of Kistery” who was tortured to death by her father for she succeeded in converting 50 of his followers to Christianity in 307 AD. The door is surrounded by a wall about 85 m. long, and comprises church which called St. Catherine church.
Inside the monastery there is EI-Mouta church “Church of the Dead’ There are also 6 Wells, 4 springs and a large garden rich in fruit trees of different kinds and two mills.
Father for she succeeded in converting 50 of his followers to Christianity in 307 AD. The door is surrounded by a wall about 85 m. long, and comprises church, which is called St Catherine church.
Living amidst the isolation of the Sinai desert, St Catherine’s monks had plenty of time to develop their artistic talents and no objects express their skill better than the thousands of icons they created through the centuries. For the monks creating icons and mosaics was not only a pastime, but an integral part of expressing their devotion to God. Their efforts to this end were both beautiful and extraordinarily prolific.
Most of the icons native to St. Catherine were created between the tenth and fifteenth centuries, following a style which has come to be called the ‘ Sinaitic School” of art. Rather than striving for realism the imagery of this time period typically reflects a strong interest in the power of Sinai’s biblical landscape. The school became so influential that many European artists incorporated elements of Sinai’s mountainous terrain into their own compositions.


The library and Gallery of Icons

The Monastery’s Library Considered one of the largest and most important of its type in the word, the library contains a rich collection of 4,500 manuscripts, mainly Greek, but also Arabic, Coptic Syriac, Slavonic and others. The regrettable story of one of the most precious manuscripts in the world, the Codex Sinaiticus, is well known. This mid-4th century Greek text of the Holy Scriptures was officially borrowed in 1859 by the German scholar K. van Tischendorf on behalf of the Czar of Russia, but it was never returned.
In 1933, was purchased by the British Museum, where it is kept to this day. This text, from which the modern King James version of the Bible was translated. is one of those artifacts that should be returned to its rightful owners.
Many of the manuscripts in the collection are illuminated with rare and fine miniatures. In addition to the manuscripts, the Library contains a considerable number of printed books. About 5,000 of these are old editions, some of which date from the earliest days of the art of printing. The Library has been organized in a scientific method and is equipped with laboratories for the conservation and the microfilming of manuscripts.


Old Refectory

The Old Refectory is actually one of the most interesting structures in the compound. This oblong hall with pointed Gothic arches preserves stone carvings with Frankish inscriptions and coats-of-arms, symbols of the Crusader knights. The small conch is decorated with a 16th century painting showing the Hospitality of Abraham, in which the three angels symbolize the Holy Trinity.
A monumental composition, dating to 1573, of the Last Judgment covers the entire surface of the wall. The long narrow wooden dinning table, placed in the middle of the hall was made and carved in Corfu, in the 17th century. On it are carved representations of angels and flowers in rococo style. It was here, during a more distant past, that the monks eat with the Archbishop at the head of the Table.


The Bell Tower

Butt in 1871, the bell tower contains nine bells of different sizes that were a gift of the Czars of Russia. The tower itself was built by a monastery monk named Gregorius. The bells continue to be rung for services on Sundays and feast-days, whereas the wooden semantron (also known as talanton), which predate the bells, is struck for Vespers and Matins.


The Basilica

The physical heart of St. Catherine’s monastery is its Byzantine-style basilica, which was built along with the protective walls in 527A.D. The basilica has three naves, and its dazzlingly ornate interior contains works of art spanning fifteen centuries.
Among the more distinctive pieces are the many lamps which hang from the ceiling in a silvery, glittering constellation, and the impressive mosaics. Lying next to the main alter is a sarcophagus which allegedly holds the remains of St. Catherine herself.


The Chapel of the Burning Bush

The monastery’s spiritual heart is the Chapel of the Burn ~g Bush, an unassuming structure of tremendous religious significance, According the oldest monastic tradition, this chapel sits atop the roots of the same Biblical bush ‘that burned with fire, and was not consumed” (Exodus 3:2) ihen God spoke to Moses for the first time. A few feet away from the Chapel is the reputed bush itself, a rare species of the rose family called Rubus Sanctus  This species is endemic to Sinai and extremely long-lived, a fact that lends scientific credence to the site, the sprawling bush is said to have been transplanted in the tenth century, when the chapel was given a roof.
Today, it is very large in size, and many monks and scholars agree that the bush’s presence is the very reason St. Catherine’s Monastery developed in the first place,


The Mosque

It lies beside the main church, constructed in the reign of the Fatimid Caliph, Al Amer Bi-Ahkam Allah, in the 11th century, symbolic of love and fraternity on the land of Egypt. St. Catherine’s Mosque was originally a chapel, but in 1106 it was converted into an Islamic structure for Unknown reasons.
One theory holds that the monks themselves hastily built it to appease an angry caliph threatening to attack; another argues that it was built by a Muslim detachment defending the monastery during the crusades.
On special Occasions the mosque is still used by the local Bedouin who have helped maintain the monastery grounds or centuries, One of the mosque’s most Signffl~00~ features is a member, or Islamic style Pulpit, which remains the only one of its kind.


Justinian’s Wall

In 527 AD., the Byzantine emperor Justinian ordered the construction of two of the monastery’s defining features, the wall and the basilica The imposing wall was meant to defend the inhabitants of the monastery from the local Bedouin tribes, and it reaches up to 9 ft in thickness and sixty ft in height. In 1801, another emperor, Napoleon, ordered their restoration.

Moses Mountain

By any other standards. Mt. Sinai would be just another barren peak lost among the Martian landscape of Southern Sinai. It is neither the highest mountain in the region, nor the most dramatic; there is no soaring, heaven-reaching apex. and it is rare to see anything resembling a divine shroud of clouds hugging its peak. Were it not for a single, overwhelming belief that has endured for over fifteen centuries, Mt. Sinai would probably be a topographical footnote.

But this is the mountain where God spoke to Moses. That, at least, is the overwhelming belief, and the belief itself has drawn pilgrims for over a thousand years. Although no archeological evidence of Moses’ presence on the mountain exists, there are abundant relics of faith throughout the eons. Ancient chapels and structures honoring saints and the Virgin Mary appear all along the main route, called Sikket Saydna Musa (“The Path of Moses”), including a stone-hewn arch where, long ago, a monk once sat and heard confession from the pilgrims.


Deir El Banat

Archaeological complex Deir el-Banat (((a female convent’>) is located in the Fayoum Governorate, in two kilometers from the convent Deir el-Naklun.

At the central part of the complex the ruins of a Medieval convent have preserved. The central building was a church, build on rock-cut foundation with fired bricks. Nowadays it is almost destroyed though at the beginning of the XX century it was considered as ((well preserved>>.
The church had a western narthex and a three aisled naos. There are remains of small rooms adjoining to the northern and, most probably, to the southern sides of the church. To the west and the east of the church the remains of living quarters are located. These were erected in mud brick. though it is evident that they were rebuilt several times. One of the buildings could be a refectory, where the monks could have community meals.
According to the authors of the Coptic Encyclopedia, the monastery could be built at the place of an earlier convent. The surface material, including ceramics, different spices of glassware, fragments of textiles, architectural fragments date to I—Xl centuries AD.
It is possible to suggest that the monastery was destroyed during persecution of the Christians that took place during the reign of Fatimid ruler AL Hakim(101 5—1020) To the north and the south of the monastery there are two large cemeteries. The burials of the upper layer of the necropolis date to early Christian period, while the lower ones — to the Greco-Roman period.