Saint Catherine’s Monastery

Saint Catherine’s Monastery, commonly known as Santa Katarina lies on the Sinai Peninsula, at the mouth of a gorge at the foot of Mount Sinai in the city of Saint Catherine in Egypt’s South Sinai Governorate. The monastery is Orthodox and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to the UNESCO report (60100 ha / Ref: 954), this monastery is one of the oldest working Christian monasteries in the world together with the Monastery of Saint Anthony, situated across the Red Sea in the desert south of Cairo, which also lays claim to that title. In the area around the monastery, a small town has grown, with hotels and swimming pools, called Saint Katherine City .

According to tradition, Catherine of Alexandria 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. Though it is commonly known as Saint Catherine’s, the full, official name of the monastery is the Sacred and Imperial Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount of Sinai, and the patronal feast of the monastery is the Transfiguration. The relics of Saint Catherine of Alexandria were purported to have been miraculously transported there by angels and it became a favorite site of pilgrimage.

The monastery was built by order of Emperor Justinian I (reigned 527-565), enclosing the Chapel of the Burning Bus ordered to be 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. It is also referred to as “St. Helen’s Chapel.” The site is sacred to Christianity & Islam.

A Fatimid Mosque was built within the walls of the monastery, but it has never been used since it is not correctly oriented towards Mecca

During the seventh century, the isolated Christian 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 twentieth century, access was through a door high in the outer walls. From the time of the First Crusade, the presence of Crusaders in the Sinai until 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, along with several dependencies in the area, constitute the entire Orthodox Church of Mount Sinai, which is headed by an archbishop, who is also the abbot of the monastery. The exact administrative status of the church within Eastern Orthodoxy is ambiguous: by some, including the church itself, it is considered autocephalous , by others an autonomous church under the jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Church Of Jerusalem . The archbishop is traditionally Consecrated by the Orthodox Patriarch Of Jerusalem ; in recent centuries he has usually resided in Cairo . During the period of the Crusades , marked by bitterness between the Orthodox and Catholic churches, the monastery was patronized by both the Byzantine Emperors and the rulers of the Kingdom Of Jerusalem , and their respective elites.

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

In May 1844, Konstantin von Tischendorf visited the monastery for research and discovered the Codex Sinaiticus, dating from the 4th Century, at the time the oldest almost completely preserved manuscript of the Bible. It left the monastery in the 19th century for Russia, in circumstances that are now disputed. It was later bought by the British Government from Russia and is now in the British Library. Prior to September 1, 2009, a previously unseen fragment of Codex Sinaiticus was discovered in the monastery’s library.

In February 1892, Agnes Smith Lewis identified a palimpsest in St Catherine’s library that became known as the Syriac Sinaiticus and is still in the Monastery’s possession. Agnes and her sister Margaret Dunlop Gibson returned with a team of scholars that included J. Rendel Harris, to photograph and transcribe the work in its entirety. As the manuscript predates the Codex Sinaiticus, it became crucial in understanding the history of the New Testament.

The Monastery also has a copy of the Achtiname, in which Muhammad is claimed to have bestowed his protection upon the monastery

The most important manuscripts have since been filmed or digitized, and so are accessible to the science. This is certainly not the case for the discoveries of 1975, which previously could be viewed and evaluated exclusively by Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland from the Institute for New Testament Textual Research in Münster, Germany in 1982.

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