Friday, March 5, 2010

St Catherines Monastery

Located about an hour’s drive from Sharm in a wadi (valley) between Gebel Musa and Gebel al Deir, is St. Catherine’s Monastery.

The site is not only the center of religious tourism, it is revered by Christians, Muslims and Jews, all of them believing that God delivered his Ten Commandments to Moses there, it also has enormous historical significance.
The monastery was built between 527 and 505 B.C on where what was thought to be Moses’ Burning Bush. St. Catherine’s Monastery with its fourteen hundred years of existence is the oldest, still standing, monastery in the world. The monastery itself was built by emperor Justinian to protect the monks in the region. 

Empress Elena, mother of Constantine the Great, had a small chapel built beside what was believed to be the burning bush from which God spoke to Moses, she dedicated it to St. Catherine, the Martyr of Alexandria. As legend has it, St. Catherine died in the 4th century. Trying to convert Emperor Maximanus to Christianity, she mocked his beliefs in idol worship, which annoyed him greatly. He ordered for her to be tortured. Miraculously, she survived and managed to look none the worse for her ordeal. He decreed to have her beheaded. What is believed to be St. Catherine’s skull and left hand remain in the monastery’s Church of Transfiguration.

A museum situated above the Well of Moses, a natural spring, close to the Burning Bush, houses some of the Monastery’s artistic treasures, notably a priceless collection of Greek and Russian icons, including one donated by Czar Alexander the II in the 19th century and another by Empress Catherine of Russia in the 7th century. But perhaps even more outstanding is the church’s some 6000 illuminated manuscripts, 3000 of which are ancient, some of them older than the church itself.

St. Catherine’s has been called the oldest working Christian monastery and the smallest diocese in the world.

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