St. Catherine Monastery

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It has been one of the world’s great centers of religious pilgrimage for over fifteen centuries. Nowadays the monastery guards a large collection of Christian manuscripts and icons.

Located at the foot of Mount Moses, St. Catherine's Monastery was constructed by order of the Emperor Justinian between 527 and 565. St. Catherine's has a rich history indeed. It has withstood numerous attacks over its 14 hundred year existence, thus protecting a rich store of art. By the 7th century, the Monastery faced a dangerous situation and a grave crisis, mainly due to the Arab conquest. According to tradition, and evident from indirect information, the Fathers of the Monastery requested the protection of Mohammed himself, who saw the Christians as brothers in faith.
The physical heart of St. Catherine's monastery is its Byzantine-style basilica, which was built in 527 A.D. A sarcophagus lying next to the main alter, allegedly holds the remains of St. Catherine. The monastery's spiritual heart is the Chapel of the Burning Bush. According the oldest tradition, this chapel sits atop the roots of the same Biblical bush "that burned with fire, and was not consumed" when God spoke to Moses for the first time. The imposing wall costructed during the reign of the Byzantine emperor Justinian was meant to defend the inhabitants of the monastery from the local bedouin tribes. St. Catherine's Mosque was originally a chapel, but in 1106 it was converted into an Islamic structure. On special occasions, the mosque is still used by the local bedouin, who have helped maintain the monastery grounds for centuries. The library at St. Catherine contains the largest collection of Christian manuscripts and icons outside of the Vatican Museum. The collection consists of some 4,500 volumes in Greek, Coptic, Arabic, Armenian, Hebrew, Slavic, Syriac, Georgian and other languages. Number of ancient icons is also on the grounds, including the famous Pantokrator of Sinai, pictured at left, and The Ladder of Divine Ascent.

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