st catherine's monastery

St Catherine’s Monastery | Historical Evidence

St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai is one of the oldest monasteries in Christianity. The monastery’s architecture is more reminiscent of a fortress than a monastery. No wonder – it is located in a rather misanthropic mountain world where only nomads lived. The lonely location at the foot of Mount Moses and probably the pleas of the monks residing brought the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I.(482 – 565) to surround the monastery with a high wall.

The main church inside St. Catherine’s Monastery (Church of the Transfiguration) also dates from this period. In this area, many monks lived as hermits in caves or small groups in monastery-like houses. In case of imminent danger, they could go to the monastery. A chapel was built on the top of Mount Sinai during the reign of Justinian I.

History of St. Catherine’s monastery

The Greek Orthodox Monastery of Saint Catherine in Sinai, Egypt, was founded between 548 and 565. It is at the foot of Djebel Musa (Mountain of Moses – also called Mount Horeb). According to tradition, this is where the burning bush was located, where God revealed himself to Moses. According to legend, the bones of St. Catherine of Alexandria, although there is no historical evidence of its existence. Sinai Monastery was initially dedicated to Mary. The mother of Jesus was named after this saint in the west from the 14th century and in the east from the 19th century.

The monastery complex is located in the heart of southern Sinai near the village of Milgram. Below the 2285 m high, Mount Sinai, and near the Djebel Katharina (2646 m). The monastery, built as a fortress, has a floor area of ​​76 by 85 meters. St. Catherine’s Monastery itself is about 1500 meters above sea level. And is an imposing place that lies in absolute solitude due to its location in a valley of the Sinai mountains against the rocky backdrop of Mount Moses. St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2002, along with six other cultural sites in Egypt.

Who is Saint Catherine?

The story of Saint Catherine of Siena is one of the most important in the religious – and not – Italian panorama. But why do we remember Saint Catherina and her origins? The first reason is that in addition to being, of course, the protector of her hometown, Catherine is also the patroness of Italy, just like St.Francis. The second is that she was also proclaimed the Patroness of Europe by John Paul II.

Saint Catherine was born in Siena, a Tuscan city, on 25 March 1347. Her family is very numerous: Caterina is, in fact, the last of 25 children of the dyer Jacopo Benincasa. It does not take long for you to follow her vocation: to take vows in the order of the Dominican Tertiaries or Mantellate.  

In her life, she dedicated herself to the care of the poor and the needy, but above all of the sick: it is no coincidence that Catherine is also the patroness of nurses. The apparition of Jesus, Mary, and the Saints, for which she becomes famous, comes when she is 20 years old. It is not a tiny thing: Jesus, according to her legend of her, puts the wedding ring on her finger and asks her to dedicate herself to the renewal of the Church.

Codex Sinaiticus

Once, the most precious treasure of the monastery on Mount Moses was the parchment manuscripts of the Holy Scriptures. Around 1859 a German theologian – Konstantin von Tischendorf – discovered the famous Codex Sinaiticus. This text dates from the 4th century. It contains the New Testament and some parts of the Old Testament in Greek. Tischendorf takes the codex to St. Petersburg in Russia and presents it to the tsar. He donated around 9,000 rubles to the monastery in Sinai. The documents then go to the library in St. Petersburg. In 1933 the Soviets sold the codex Sinaiticus at the British Museum London.

st catherine's monastery

Representation of St Catherine’s Monastery 

Church of the Transfiguration

The most important building within St. Catherine’s monastery walls is the Church of the Transfiguration – the work of the Byzantine architect Stephanos. The building was constructed of granite stones. Built-in in the form of a Greek cross as a basilica, the church consists of a nave and two side aisles, separated by massive granite columns with dark capitals. The church also contains a central apse and a narthex. Each of the three naves has its chapel. Behind the central apse is the holiest part of the monastery, the Chapel of the Burning Bush.

The Mountain of Moses

Outside of this site, in another valley, a hotel complex was built with the support of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism, befitting the dignity and importance of the place. The lodges, which have a village character and are adapted to the natural environment, were built under strict environmental regulations. Moses Mountain is where Moses received the Ten Commandments in the form of stone tablets from the hand of God. Unfortunately, many tourists need to learn how to behave in such a place. And litter on their ascent and descent of Mount Moses the beautiful surroundings. This excursion is usually offered with an overnight stay so that you can start the obligatory ascent at 03.00 in the morning. 

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The monastery library comprises four rooms and is probably the oldest surviving Christian library. There are more than six thousand Greek, Syriac, Ethiopian, and Arabic manuscripts. And Georgian, three thousand of them from antiquity and some older than the monastery itself, a collection surpassed in size only by the Vatican Library. Most of these books are still in their original bindings, unlike in western libraries, where the original bindings are usually replaced.


At the border crossings from Eilat to Egypt (Taba) and Jordan (Arava). As well as the border stations Sheikh Hussein from Israel to Jordan and Allenby Bridge from the West Bank to Jordan. There can always be brief closures or a reduction in opening times. So, I’d like to ask you about the opening on-site as soon as possible. Also, the entry and exit regulations of Israel, Egypt, and Jordan are to be observed and ma, make inquiries about this before the trip. The border formalities at the Taba crossing, the provisions of which have been negotiated through bilateral agreements and are subject to a special status, must be observed in particular.