Monastery of Saint Catherine

The monastery of Saint Catherine is located at the foot of Mount Sinai, It is also known as “The monastery of the God trodden mount Sinai’ in reference to the mountain where God spoke unto Moses, It is a Greek-Orthodox monastery that has been declared a world heritage site by UNESCO, The oldest and the holiest part of the monastery is the chapel of the Burning Bush, which was built in the 4 th century by Empress Helena; mother of Emperor Constantine the great.

Monastery of Saint Catherine ..
Monastery of Saint Catherine ..

Many monks settled around the chapel, In the 6 th century, Emperor Justinian ordered a Greek architect named “Stephanos” to build a fortress in order to protect the monks. The monastery was later on named after Saint Catherine,She was martyred in the early 4th century in Alexandria during the reign of Emperor Maximian, and according to Christian tradition, her relics were carried by angels from Alexandria to Mount Sinai, where the monks later on found her remains around 800 AD, The monastery is surround by an enclosure wall, whose height varies from 8m to 35m. Inside the monastery, the following buildings are found:

Monastery of Saint Catherine plan
Monastery of Saint Catherine plan

1-The Transfiguration Church.

 2-The Sacristy.

3-The Chapel of the Burning Bush.

 4-The Fatimid Mosque.

 5-The Library. 

6-The refectory.

 7-The Monks’ Cells.

8-The two mills and the olive press. 

9-The Charnel House. 10-The Water wells. 


  1. The Church of the Transfiguration It is a basilica that dates back to the 6th century. It was given this name because of the scene depicted on the ceiling of its sanctuary, which shows the transfiguration of Jesus Christ. The outer door of the church is made of cedar wood, and dates back to the Fatimid era (11th century).This door leads to a rectangular narthex, Another wooden door from the 6th century decorated with vine leaves, crosses, and peacocks leads from the narthex into the main body of the church, which consists of a central nave, and two side aisles separated from the central nave by 12 columns (6 columns on either side) symbolizing the 12 months of the year.
    Monastery of Saint Catherine
    Monastery of Saint Catherine



    Above each column, is an icon depicting the saints venerated during the particular month, There are six chapels on either side of the aisles, each dedicated to a particular saint, and each is used once a year to celebrate the feast of that particular saint, The nave is separated from the sanctuary by a gilded iconostasis, which was completed in 1612. 

    The sanctuary

    is located in the eastern part of the church. Inside the sanctuary, is the altar on top of which is a casket where the relics of Saint Catherine are kept. This casket was presented to the monastery as a gift from Empress Catherine of Russia. The half-dome covering the apse of the sanctuary is decorated with a scene representing the transfiguration of Jesus Christ in the presence of Prophets Moses and Elijah, as well as three apostles. The church has a corbelled wooden ceiling, whose outer surface is covered with lead.

    2-The Sacristy

    This is where the monastery keeps its priceless works of art, such as mosaics, icons, chalices, and reliquaries. The collection of icons housed in the monastery date back to the 5th and 6th centuries. The monastery was untouched by the Byzantine iconoclasm, and its icons are therefore unique.

     3-The Chapel of the Burning Bush

    This chapel covers an area of 6 m2 . Its walls are decorated with blue and brown faience tiles. It was probably built by order of Empress Helena; the mother of Emperor Constantine I in the 4th century. According to Christian tradition, it was here that God spoke unto Moses, and ordered him to take off his sandals for the ground is holy. The altar of the chapel was built on the roots of the Burning Bush. 

    4-The Fatimid Mosque

    It was built inside the monastery in the 12th century during the caliphate of El-Amir-bi-Ahkam-Allah (1106AD). Today, the mosque is looked after by a Bedouin tribe. It is rectangular in shape, measures 11m. × 7 m, and consists of three riwaqs of which the central riwaq is the largest. The minaret lies in the eastern part of the mosque. Its height is around 10m. 

    Monastery of Saint Catherine
    Monastery of Saint Catherine



    5-The Library in Saint Catherine

    The library of the monastery houses 3500 manuscripts written in Greek, Arabic, Coptic, Hebrew, and Aramaic. This is considered to be the second largest collection of early codices and manuscripts in the world, outnumbered only by the Vatican Library. Most of these manuscripts inside the library have already been filmed or digitized, in order to be made accessible to scholars. Among the most important manuscripts:

     -The Codex Sinaiticus: it is the oldest almost completely preserved manuscript of the Bible, written in the 4th century.

     -The Achtiname: according to the monks of the monastery, the Achtiname was signed by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and prayers). In it, He bestowed his protection upon the monastery. The original manuscript of the Achtiname is now in Turkey, and the library keeps only a copy of it.

     6-The refectory

    The refractory was originally a church that was converted by the monks into a refectory. It has a wooden table measuring 17m. in length and 5m. in width. 

    7-The charnel house in Monastery of Saint Catherine

    The Charnel house is where the relics of the monks who served inside the monastery are buried.

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