Located at the foot of Mount Moses, St.
Catherine's Monastery, was constructed by order of the
Emperor Justinian between 527 and 565. It is built around
what is thought to be Moses' Burning Bush, which has a
chapel built atop it. It is a spectacular natural setting
for priceless works of art, including Arab mosaics, Greek
and Russian icons, Western oil paintings, paintings on
wax, fine sacerdotal ornaments, marbles, enamels,
chalices, reliquaries, including one donated by Czar
Alexander II in the 19th century, and another by Empress
Catherine of Russia in the 17th century.
But of perhaps
even greater significance is that it is one of the largest
and most important collection of illuminated manuscripts
in the world (The Vatican has the largest). The collection
consists of some 4,500 volumes in Greek, Coptic, Arabic,
Armenian, Hebrew, Slavic, Syriac, Georgian and other
St. Catherine's has a rich history indeed. So rich
that it is a sparkling example of an undiscovered
jewel of travel. It has been called the oldest working
Christian monastery and the smallest diocese in the
world. The Chapel of the Burning Bush was originally
ordered built by Empress Helen, the mother of
Constantine the Great, but the monastery itself was
actually built by Emperor Justinian to protect the
monks in the region and to honor the site of the
Burning Bush. St. Catherine, whose body was reportedly
carried away by angels, was discovered five hundred
years later at the top of the peak that now bears her
name. Her relics are stored in a marble reliquary in
the Basilica. We have additional pictures of this
church, and of its interior.
St. Catherine's is also a formidable fortification,
with granite walls measuring 8 to 35 meters tall,
surrounded by gardens and cypresses. Prior to probably
the twentieth century, the only entrance to St.
Catherine's was a small door 30 feet high, where
provisions and people were lifted with a system of
pulleys, and where food was often lowered to nomads.
It has withstood numerous attacks over its 14 hundred
year existence, thus protecting a rich store of art.
Today, while it is one of the oldest monasteries in
the world, its original, preserved state is unmatched.
Though patronized during much of its history by the
Russian Orthodox Church, it is now under the auspices
of the Greek Orthodox Church. Most of its monks are
also of Greek origin, though their ranks include an
Mosque, which lies within the walls of St.