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Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Egypt

April 6th, 2007 / / Links: Google Earth, Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, Virtual Earth / Nearest places
 
 

Saint Catherine's Monastery on the Sinai Peninsula, at the mouth of an inaccessible gorge at the foot of Mount Sinai, in Egypt is one of the oldest continuously functioning Christian monasteries. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In 1884 an old handwriting fragment was found in a library in Italy, coming from a monastery that was built somewhere near the year 500. The handwriting fragment contained parts of a travel journal from "The Holy Land" and a detailed description of the Easter celebration in Jerusalem. The manuscript was written in Latin by a woman named Egeria. She visited many places around the Holy Land and Mount Sinai, where, according to the Old Testament, Moses received the Ten Commandments from God.

Saint Catherine was a Christian martyr initially sentenced to death on the wheel. However, 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. At this time Egypt was a Muslim country so this Christian monastery in the enormous mountain passes of Sinai could use an Egyptian saint from the Early Church.

The monastery was built by order of Emperor Justinian I between 527 and 565, enclosing the Chapel of the Burning Bush ordered built by Helena, the mother of Constantine I, at the site where Moses is supposed to have seen the burning bush; the living bush on the grounds is purportedly the original. The site is sacred to three major world religions - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Though it is commonly known as Saint Catherine's, the actual name of the monastery is the Monastery of the Transfiguration. The site was associated with St. Catherine of Alexandria (whose relics were purported to have been miraculously transported there by angels) and it became a favorite site for pilgrimages.

According to a document in the possession of the monastery purportedly signed by Muhammed himself, Muhammed gave his protection to the monastery after it granted, at some point, political asylum to Muhammed from his enemies. For this reason, and because a Fatimid mosque was built within the walls of the monastery, the monastery survived Islamic dominance of the region over many centuries. The mosque is sealed and has never been used, since it is oriented incorrectly with Mecca.

During the 7th century, the isolated anchorites of the Sinai were eliminated: only the fortified monastery remained. The monastery is still surrounded by the massive fortifications that have preserved it. Until the 20th century, access was through a door high in the outer walls. From the time of the Crusades, the presence of Crusaders in the Sinai between 1099 and 1270 spurred the interest of European Christians and increased the number of intrepid pilgrims who visited the monastery. The monastery was supported by its dependencies in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Crete, Cyprus and Constantinople.

The monastery library preserves the second largest collection of early codices and manuscripts in the world, outnumbered only by the Vatican Library. Its strength lies in Greek, Coptic, Arabic, Armenian, Hebrew, and Syriac texts.

The complex houses irreplaceable works of art: mosaics, Greek and Russian icons, encaustic paintings, as well as sacerdotal ornaments, chalices and reliquaries. Most importantly, it is home to some of the earliest icons in the world, dating to the 5th and 6th centuries. The oldest icon on the Old Testament theme is also preserved there. A project to catalogue the works held in the library is currently being undertaken.

The monastery along with several dependencies in the area constitute the entire Orthodox Church of Mount Sinai, an autonomous (as distinct from autocephalous) Orthodox Christian church headed by an archbishop, who is also the abbot of the monastery. The archbishop is traditionally consecrated by the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem.

[Source: Wikipedia]

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