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St Catherine's Monastery

Posted On : 22/02/2023 Kate Clark 50
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The history of the monastery of St. Catherine

The Monastery of Santa Caterina is located at the foot of Mount Sinai , near the burning bush of Moses, about 1500 meters high, on the slopes of the homonymous mountain. It is located precisely in the Sinai peninsula, not far from Dahab or Sharm El Sheikh , it is possible to reach the place with day trips starting from one of these two cities. The Monastery was built at the behest of Emperor Justinian in the 6th century AD with the name of Monastery of the Transfiguration.

Only in the 9th century did it take on the name of Santa Caterina in honor of the martyr Santa Caterina of Alexandria who died by martyrdom in 305 or 310 AD in Alexandria in Egypt , at the time of Emperor Maximinus.

At that time Alexandria in Egypt was the center of ancient cultures and the Christian wisdom tradition. Caterina, according to tradition, she was a young eighteen year old Christian, she came from a noble family, she was beautiful and also cultured; she had already converted numerous court intellectuals, after having tried to dissuade the emperor Massimino from the worship of pagan idols, she was accused of worshiping pagan idols herself and sentenced to death, following horrible tortures. According to Christian tradition, after her beheading, her body was taken by the angels and taken to Mount Sinai where, according to legend, it was found intact a few centuries later, perfectly preserved, by the monks of the monastery. Her remains are still buried in the monastery basilica.

 

The Monastery of Santa Caterina and the UNESCO heritage

The Monastery has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is the oldest still active Christian monastery in the world, it is part of the Eastern Orthodox Church. 

 

The importance of the Monastery

The Monastery is a sacred place for the three great monotheistic religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Its structure is made up of numerous buildings from different eras, whose bells strike 33 strokes every morning, following a consolidated tradition (symbol of the years of Christ's life) to announce a new day. The oldest part is visible in the Burning Bush chapel, built in the exact spot where it is said that Moses saw the burning bush.

Of notable value and rarity is the library, custodian of a collection of ancient manuscripts which in size and importance is second only to that of the Vatican. In the Museum you can see priceless Byzantine icons, beautifully carved doors, beautiful frescoes and other religious decorations in gold and precious stones. Interesting to visit is a basilica with a mosaic of the "transfiguration". 

 

Travel: Egypt - St Catherine's Monastery and when to visit St Catherine's Monastery

Make sure you visit Santa Caterina at a time of year when it's not too cold, temperatures can reach very low levels. For the more athletic we absolutely recommend the hiking route, to be covered at night, which will lead you to the Monastery after having reached the summit and seen the sunrise on the summit of Mount Sinai , be careful though, as mentioned, the temperatures are extremely low for medium Egyptians, get clothes that keep you warm, alternatively you can rent blankets along the way and also on the top!

There are two routes: for the more sporty the Scala del Repentance, dug by a penitent monk, also known as the "Steps of Penitence", it is a steep route dotted with various votive places, including: the Porta della Confessione, (in this place in the past a monk confessed pilgrims), the door of Santo Stefano and the source of Moses, which flows from a small cave.

The second route is longer, it can be covered on foot or on the back of a camel, in which case the final 750 steps must be covered. Both options lead to the Greek Orthodox monastery of St. Catherine. One more reason to reach the monastery through these routes is that from the summit it is possible to admire a splendid panorama which embraces the gulf of Aqaba , the mountains of Africa and those of Saudi Arabia.

 

You are welcome to visit the mount and shrine as pilgrims, bearing in mind the respect due to this ancient spiritual site. Also note that the monastery is closed on Fridays, Sundays and public holidays (including Christmas and New Year's), so plan your trip according to the opening hours.

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By Kate Clark

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