Located at the foot of Mount Moses, St. Catherine's
Monastery, was constructed by order of the Emperor Justinian
between 527 and 565. Is built around what is thought to be
Moses' Burning Bush, which has a chapel built atop it. It is a
spectacular natural setting for priceless works of art,
including Arab mosaics, Greek and Russian icons, Western oil
paintings, paintings on wax, fine sacerdotal ornaments, marbles,
enamels, chalices, reliquaries, including one donated by Czar
Alexander II in the 19th century, and another by Empress
Catherine of Russia in the 17th century. But of perhaps even
greater significance is that it is the second largest collection
of illuminated manuscripts (The Vatican has the largest).
The collection consists of some 3,500 volumes in Greek, Coptic,
Arabic, Armenian, Hebrew, Slavic, Syriac, Georgian and other
languages. Around the year 1850, the fourth century Codex
Sinaiticus, which is now in the British Museum in London, was
discovered here. The Monastery even has a small 10th or 11th
century mosque which was probably built to appease the Islamic
authorities of the time. There is also a small chapel (the
Chapel of St. Triphone, also known as the Skull House) which
houses the skulls of deceased monks.
St. Catherine's has a rich history indeed. So rich that it is a
sparkling example of an undiscovered Jewell of travel. It has
been called the oldest working Christian monastery, though St.
Anthony's predates it, and the smallest diocese in the world.The Monastery was originally ordered built by Empress Helen, the
mother of Constantine the Great, but was actually built by
Emperor Justinian to house the bones of St. Catherine of
St. Catherine, whose body was reportedly carried
away by angels, was discovered five hundred years later at the
top of the peak that now bears her name. Her relics are stored
in a marble reliquary in the Basilica. We have additional
pictures of this church, and of its interior.
St. Catherine's is also a formidable fortification, with granite
walls 40 to 200 feet tall, surrounded by gardens and cypresses.
Prior to probably the twentieth century, the only entrance to
St. Catherine's was a small door 30 feet high, where provisions
and people were lifted with a system of pulleys, and where food
was often lowered to nomads.
It has withstood numerous attacks
over its 14 hundred year existence thus protecting a rich store
of art, and today, while it is one of the oldest monasteries in
the world, its original, preserved state is unmatched.
Though established and patronized most of its history by the
Russian Orthodox Church, it is now under the auspices of the
Greek Orthodox Church. Most of its monks are also of Greek