History of St.Catherine Monastery :
In the Middle East there are four primary sacred mountains: Mt Ararat in eastern Turkey, the traditional landing place of Noah’s ark; Mount Sinai in the Sinai peninsula, the peak where Moses received the Ten Commandments; Mount Moriah or Mount Zion in Israel, where lies the city of Jerusalem and the temple of Solomon; and Mt.Tabor in Israel, the site of the transfiguration of Jesus. Mount Sinai, also called Mount Horeb and Jebel Musa (the ‘Mountain of Moses’) is the center of a greatly venerated pilgrimage destination that includes the Monastery of St. Catherine and the Burning Bush, Elijah’s Plateau, and Plain of ar-Raaha, near Mount Sinai.
The Monastery of St. Catherine, also known as the Monastery of the Transfiguration, is located in a triangular area between the Desert of El-Tih, the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba in the Sinai. It is situated at an altitude of 4854 feet in a small, picturesque gorge. It is a region of wilderness made up of granite rock and rugged mountains which, at first glance, seems inaccessible. In fact, while small towns and villages have grown up on the shores of the two gulfs, only a few Bedouin nomads roam the mountains and arid land inland. Well known mountains dominate this region, including Mount Sinai (2,285 meters), Mount St.Catherine (2,637 meters), Mount Serbal (2,070 meters) and Mount Episteme.
This is the region through which Moses is said to have led his people, eventually to the Promised Land, and there are legends of their passing in many places. Of course, one of the most exceptional locations is that of Mount Sinai, where Moses met with God who delivered to him the tablets containing the Ten Commandments. Obviously, the region is sacred to Christians, Jews and Muslims alike.
the South Sinai became a place of pilgrimage that was visited by many from far away lands. In 1884, a manuscript was discovered that relates a visit to the area by Aetheria between 372 and 374 AD. She was a Spanish noblewoman who was accompanied by a retinue of clerics. She relates finding a small church on the summit of Mount Sinai, another one on Mount Horeb and a third one at the site of the Burning Bush, near which there was a fine garden with plenty of water.
Her account clearly reveals the expansion of monasticism in the Sinai desert. In fact, by the 5th century, the growing population of hermits was apparently headed by a dignitary, mentioned as the Bishop of Pharan, who’s office was eventually taken over by the Bishop of Sinai. With this development apparently came a request by the Sinai monks, to Justinian, the Byzantium emperor, for assistance. He thus founded a magnificent church, which he enclosed within walls strong enough to withstand attacks and protect the monks against nomadic raids, which today is known to us as the Monastery of St. Catherine.
By the 7th century, the Monastery faced a dangerous situation and a grave crisis, mainly due to the Arab conquest. Although information on this period is scant, one source tells that by the year 808, the number of monks in the monastery had been reduced to thirty, while Christian life on the Sinai peninsula had all but vanished. However, the monas