Saint Catherine’s Monastery - History and Facts | History Hit

Saint Catherine’s Monastery

Saint Catherine’s is a beautiful and fascinating survivor from Late Antiquity, with buildings stemming from the 6th century and some of the oldest Christian Icons found anywhere.

Teet Ottin

04 Jan 2023
Image Credit: Nicola Pulham / Shutterstock.com

About Saint Catherine’s Monastery

The Eastern Orthodox Monastic complex, located on the Sinai Peninsula, is the oldest continuously inhabited Christian monastery in the world. Saint Catherine’s became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002.

History of Saint Catherine’s Monastery

The monastery was founded by Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I in 527. The location was believed to have been the site of the burning bush observed by Moses on the lower slopes of Mount Sinai. The monastic fortifications were erected in 530 following numerous robberies. During the 7th century, Saint Catherine’s offered refuge to Christians fleeing from the Arab conquests that were sweeping across the region. Because the new Muslim rulers spared the monastery, the monks erected a small mosque within the monastic walls, where local Bedouin Arabs still worship to this day.

During the Middle Ages Saint Catherine’s became a poplar sight of Christian pilgrimage. Throughout the next centuries the outward appearance of the monastery remained unchanged, with most of the surviving buildings stemming from the 6th century. Besides being the oldest running Christian monastery in the world, Saint Catherine’s is also the home to the oldest still operating library in existence.

Saint Catherine’s Monastery today

The monastery has become a popular tourist attraction, with visitors across the globe coming to explore the rich history of the Orthodox complex. Saint Catherine’s is renowned for having one of the largest collections of early Christian icons, with some of the oldest ones being from Late Antiquity.

The monastery library houses the second largest collection of early codices and manuscripts in the world, outnumbered only by the Vatican. Two of the most significant works found in the monastic complex are Codex Sinaiticus and the Syriac Sinaiticus, both dating between the 4th to 5th century.

Getting to Saint Catherine’s Monastery

The easiest way to get to the monastery is by taking a taxi from Sharm el-Sheikh or Dahab. Most visitors take part in organised tours that start in Sharm el-Sheikh.

There is only one bus service that goes each morning at 11am from Cairo and arrives at Saint Catherine’s at 6pm. The site is close to the small settlement of Al-Milga, which has a couple of hotels and some small restaurants.

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