Saint Catherine's Monastery

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Saint Catherine's Monastery
Katharinenkloster Sinai BW 2.jpg
St. Catherine's monastery
Monastery information
Order Eastern Orthodox
Established 565 CE
People
Founder(s) Justinian I
Site
Location Saint Catherine, South Sinai Governorate, Egypt
Coordinates 28°33′20″N 33°58′34″E / 28.55556°N 33.97611°E / 28.55556; 33.97611Coordinates: 28°33′20″N 33°58′34″E / 28.55556°N 33.97611°E / 28.55556; 33.97611
Official name: Saint Catherine Area
Type: Cultural
Criteria: i, iii, iv, vi
Designated: 2002 (26th session)
Reference No. 954
State Party: Egypt
Region: Arab States

Saint Catherine's Monastery (Greek: Μονὴ τῆς Ἁγίας Αἰκατερίνης, Monì tìs Agìas Ekaterìnis), in Arabic دير القدّيسة كاترينا commonly known as Santa Katarina, its official name being Sacred Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount Sinai (Greek: Ιερά Μονή του Θεοβαδίστου Όρους Σινά, Ierà Monì tou Theovadìstou Òrous Sinà), 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. Built between 548 and 565,[1] the monastery is one of the oldest working Christian monasteries in the world, according to UNESCO report 60100 ha / Ref: 954. In the area around the monastery, a small town has grown, with hotels and swimming pools, called Saint Katherine City.

Christian traditions[edit]

According to tradition, Catherine of Alexandria was a Christian martyr sentenced to death on the wheel. 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 monastery's full official name is the Sacred Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount Sinai. The patronal feast of the monastery is the Transfiguration. The monastery has become a favorite site of pilgrimage.

History[edit]

Bell tower at Saint Catherine's Monastery
Saint Catherine's Monastery in 1968
Saint Catherine's monastery, 1852

The oldest record of monastic life at Sinai comes from the travel journal written in Latin by a woman named Egeria about 381-384. She visited many places around the Holy Land and Mount Sinai, where, according to the Hebrew Bible, Moses received the Ten Commandments from God.[2]

The monastery was built by order of Emperor Justinian I (reigned 527-565), enclosing the Chapel of the Burning Bush (also known as "Saint Helen's Chapel") 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 one seen by Moses. Structurally the monastery's king post truss is the oldest known surviving roof truss in the world.[3] The site is sacred to Christianity and Islam[dubious ].

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.

Ossuary in Saint Catherine's Monastery

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,[4] it is considered autocephalous,[5][6] by others an autonomous church under the jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem.[7] 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 which was 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.

Manuscripts and icons[edit]

6th-century hot wax icon

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 Aramaic 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.[8][9]

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.[10] As the manuscript predates the Codex Sinaiticus, it became crucial in understanding the history of the New Testament.

External video
Moses & Bush Icon Sinai c12th century.jpg
The Icons of Saint Catherine's Monastery, Sinai, Egypt, J. Paul Getty Museum

The Monastery also has a copy of the Achtiname, in which the Prophet Muhammad is claimed to have bestowed his protection upon the monastery.[11]

The most important manuscripts have since been filmed or digitized, and so are accessible to scholars. A team of imaging scientists and scholars from the USA and Europe is using spectral imaging techniques developed for imaging the Archimedes Palimpsest to study more than one hundred palimpsests in the monastery library.[12]

Works of art[edit]

The complex houses irreplaceable works of art: mosaics, the best collection of early icons in the world, many in encaustic, as well as liturgical objects, chalices and reliquaries, and church buildings. The large icon collection begins with a few dating to the 5th (possibly) and 6th centuries, which are unique survivals, the monastery having been untouched by Byzantine iconoclasm, and never sacked. The oldest icon on an Old Testament theme is also preserved there. A project to catalogue the collections has been ongoing since the 1960s. The monastery was an important centre for the development of the hybrid style of Crusader art, and still retains over 120 icons created in the style, by far the largest collection in existence. Many were evidently created by Latins, probably monks, based in or around the monastery in the 13th century.[13]

Icons[edit]

A panorama of St Catherine's

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Din, Mursi Saad El et al.. Sinai: the site & the history : essays. New York: New York University Press, 1998. 80. ISBN 0814722032
  2. ^ Pilgrimage of Etheria text at ccel.org
  3. ^ Feilden, Bernard M.. Conservation of historic buildings. 3rd ed. Oxford: Architectural Press, 2003. 51. ISBN 0750658630
  4. ^ The official Website describes the Church as "διοικητικά "αδούλωτος, ασύδοτος, ακαταπάτητος, πάντη και παντός ελευθέρα, αυτοκέφαλος" or "administratively 'free, loose, untresspassable, free from anyone at any time, autocephalous'" (see link below)
  5. ^ Weitzmann, Kurt, in: Galey, John; Sinai and the Monastery of St. Catherine, p. 14, Doubleday, New York (1980) ISBN 0-385-17110-2
  6. ^ Ware, Kallistos (Timothy) (1964). "Part I: History". The Orthodox Church. Penguin Books. Retrieved 2007-07-14.  Under Introduction Bishop Kallistos says that Sinai is "autocephalous"; under The twentieth century, Greeks and Arabs he states that "There is some disagreement about whether the monastery should be termed an 'autocephalous' or merely an 'autonomous' Church."
  7. ^ The Orthodox Church of Mount Sinai CNEWA Canada, "A papal agency for humanitarian and pastoral support"[dead link]
  8. ^ "Fragment from world's oldest Bible found hidden in Egyptian monastery". The Independent, 2 Sept, 2009.
  9. ^ "Oldest known Bible to go online". BBC News, 3 August 2005.
  10. ^ Soskice, Janet (2009). The Sisters of Sinai: How two lady adventureres discovered the hidden gospels. London: Vintage. pp. Chapter 14. ISBN 978-1-4000-3474-1. 
  11. ^ Brandie Ratliff, "The monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai and the Christian communities of the Caliphate." Sinaiticus. The bulletin of the Saint Catherine Foundation (2008).
  12. ^ Schrope, Mark (Sep 6, 2012). "In the Sinai, a global team is revolutionizing the preservation of ancient manuscripts". Washington Post Magazine. Retrieved 2012-09-07. 
  13. ^ Kurt Weitzmann in The Icon, Evans Brothers Ltd, London (1982), pp. 201-207 (trans. of Le Icone, Montadori 1981), ISBN 0-237-45645-1

Further reading[edit]

  • Forsyth, G. H.; Weitzmann, K. (1973). The Monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai - The Church and Fortress of Justinian: Plates. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-472-33000-4. 
  • Soskice, Janet (1991). Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Found the Hidden Gospels. London: Vintage. ISBN 978-1-4000-3474-1. 
  • Sotiriou, G. and M. (1956-8). Icones du Mont Sinaï. 2 vols (plates and texts). Collection de L'Institut francais d'Athènes 100 and 102. Athens. 
  • Weitzmann, K. (1976). The Monastery of Saint Catherine at Mihnt Sinai: The Icons, Volume I: From the Sixth to the Tenth Century. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 
  • Weitzmann, K.; Galavaris, G. (1991). The Monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai. The Illuminated Greek Manuscripts, Volume I. From the Ninth to the Twelfth Century. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-03602-0. 

External links[edit]