About the Monastery of Saint Catherine
The Monastery of Saint Catherine is the most important Coptic historical site in Egypt. Situated in Southern Sinai, the monastery was first established in the 3rd century AD.
Many travelers who spend their holidays in Egypt would visit the Monastery of Saint Catherine after climbing the Moses Mountain, located at the back of the monastery, to have marvelous views of the whole area in the sunrise and the sunset.
Geographical Location of Monastery of Saint Catherine
The area where Saint Catherine is located became a Natural protected area in Egypt in 1996 because of many of the plants and wild life that cannot be found anywhere else but in this area.
Situated in the region of Middle Sinai, not near any seas or gulfs almost surrounding the peninsula, Saint Catherine is located 60 kilometers to the North of Sharm El Sheikh, 120 kilometers to the West of Dahab, and 428 kilometers to the South East of Cairo, after passing through the Ahmed Hamdi Tunnel to reach Sinai.
The History and the construction of the Monastery of Saint Catherine
The Monastery was named after Saint Catherine who was the daughter of an aristocratic atheist family. She was born in Alexandria in 194 AD. She converted to Christianity. Maximinus Thrax, the Roman Emperor who ruled Alexandria at the time treated the Christians in a brutal way until he killed her to become one of the first Christian martyrs in Egypt.
The Monastery of Saint Catherine was actually built three centuries after her death. This was when one of the monks saw that two angles lifted her holy body and brought it to the location of the monastery.
The Monastery of Saint Catherine was constructed in 432 AD with orders from the Empress Helena and then the Emperor Justinian continued the construction works between 548 and 565 AD.
Near the entrance of the Monastery, there are two marble pieces that contain the name of the constructor of the monastery of Saint Catherine and the date of the construction. Emperor Justinian has built this monastery in the love of his wife Theodora.
The Description of the Monastery of Saint Catherine
Visitors spending their vacation in Egypt would enter inside the monastery of Saint Catherine through a small door in the Eastern walls of the monastery. This is the only entrance to the monastery since the main gate was closed to defend it against the attacks of the Bedouin tribes in the Middle Ages.
Some sections of the huge walls of the monastery, that were built out of bronze, still survived until today although they have been rebuilt many times throughout history.
The main church of the monastery was constructed by Emperor Justinian in the fifth century AD. It is among a few of the Basilicas that lived until today and was constructed in the Middle Ages. The entrance to the main church of the Saint Catherine Monastery is through a huge wooden door that dates back to the 11th century AD.
The central nave of the Monastery is surrounded by six icons that have the famous Byzantine style of architecture and each of them represent a saint.
Afterwards, the guests can visit the Altar of the church and just behind it; there is the burning bush, the holiest section in the monastery that is almost closed to the public all the time. The burning bush found in the monastery of Saint Catherine is a descendant of the original burning bush which Moses heard god speaking through and it is found nowhere else in the world except in Sinai.
The library of the monastery of Saint Catherine is the second largest and most important Christian library in the whole world after that of the Vatican in Italy.
The library of the Monastery of Saint Catherine consists of three chambers built parallel to each other’s. It contains many books written in the Arabic, Greek, and Syrian languages with many rare books and letters especially those from Prophet Mohamed.
It contains more than 300 rare books and manuscript with the highlight being a 5th century version of the Old Testament. The library also has the only surviving icons of the iconoclast period.
The garden of the monastery is full of olive trees and different types of plants. The garden has the cemetery of the monastery that has the bones of monks who passed away and used to work in the monastery all over the years.
The Monastery of Saint Catherine also hosts a small mosque that was constructed in 1106 in the ruling period of the Fatimids in Egypt due to the orders of the Sultan El Hakim Be Amr Allah. It is quite small is size and it is situated 10 meters away from the main church of the monastery.
The Natural Protected Area of Saint Catherine
The surface area of the natural protected area of Saint Catherine is more than 640 square kilometers and it is a marvelous place for safari trips. The UNESCO has added Saint Catherine to its list of protected areas two decades ago.
The protected area of Saint Catherine is one of the largest and richest natural protected areas in Egypt and it hosts also the Saint Catherine Mountain that is the highest in the whole country being 2641 meters above the sea level.
The valleys of Saint Catherine are also situated 1600 meters above the sea level that make a wonderful environment for many trees and plants that only grow in that particular part of Sinai.
Many tours to the beautiful Red Sea coastal city of Sharm El Sheikh would normally include a visit to the monastery of Saint Catherine to climb the mountains and admire the charm of one of the oldest monasteries in the world explore by numerous travelers who spend their vacation in Egypt.