St Catherine Monastery is the oldest Christian monastery in the world that is continuously inhabited. It’s a living fortification and silent witness to 17 centuries of history that only few people know about. It is surrounded by rugged mountains and incredible landscapes where you can live and be at peace with whatever is around you.
In present day, the monastery accepts pilgrims / guests who want to stay for a night before climbing Mt. Sinai at dawn for the stunning sunrise. Be it known that the accommodation here is just very basic and you can’t expect for more or 5-star treatment. Unless you are on a tour group, you’ll be on your own to explore or trek Mt. Sinai and its surroundings.
So, what makes this monastery interesting? Please read on…
St Catherine Monastery is at the foot of Sinai High Mountains and above 1,600 meters.
It is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The site is sacred to Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Inside the walls is a Christian Church of the Transfiguration and a Mosque, built together, side by side.
No photography is allowed inside the church that’s built in the 6th century. As I moved my eyes from walls to ceilings, I felt like the sacred eyes of the people in the murals were alive and were looking at me and the other visitors. The chandeliers, wooden doors, pieces of furniture, gilded icons and paintings, glass objects, altar paraphernalia and the marble columns still look exactly the same as they were. But, perhaps, the most amazing artistic treasure here is the 6th century mural of the transfiguration above the altar. Its rich colours and detailed execution of the artist will hold you in awe.
The monastery has survived many wars, none dared to destroyed it. Napoleon even protected it. Prophet Mohammed signed to protect it.
This is the Burning Bush where God said to have called Moses out from it.
The Biblical story says the bush above was on fire but it was not consumed by the flames. Moses then heard God’s voice directing him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and into Canaan.
Near the entrance to the Church and the mosque is the Moses Well. It is believed that those who’ll drink from it will have blissful marital life.
Today, though off-limits to visitors, the monastery’s library holds the second (next to the Vatican Library) largest collection of Biblical manuscripts.
At the manuscript room (also off-limits to visitors) are the remaining original parchments of The Bible.
Who is St Catherine? She’s a Christian martyr from Alexandria who was sentenced to death on a wheel but survived the ordeal – and was later beheaded. The angels took her body to Mt. Sinai and around Year 800, the monks found her body and was later interred inside the Church of Transfiguration. (Pic below: Can you see the cross on the summit?)