Saint Catherine’s Monastery lies on the Sinai Peninsula, at the foot of Mount Sinai (where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God).
In the early 4th century, St. Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, built the Chapel of the Burning Bush at the site where Moses is supposed to have seen the miracle. The fortified walls were built around the chapel by Justinian, starting in 527.
The monastery’s actual name is the Monastery of the Transfiguration, but it later became associated with St. Catherine of Alexandria, a 3rd-century martyr whose head and hand were brought here for safe keeping in the 10th century. St. Catherine’s Monastery became a major pilgrimage destination in the Byzantine Era and it still is today.
The library at St. Catherine’s is the oldest in the Christian world and preserves the second largest collection of early codices and manuscripts in the world.
The monastery has never been destroyed in all its history, and thus it can be said to have preserved intact the distinctive qualities of its Greek and Roman heritage.
One of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world, St. Catherine’s incorporates the burning bush seen by Moses and contains many valuable icons..
The Holy Monastery of Sinai has been celebrated throughout the world for its spiritual and cultural radiance. It has been revered not only by Christians, but also by Moslems and Jews. It has recently been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, both for its cultural and for its scenic significance.
According to tradition, Catherine of Alexandria was a Christian martyr sentenced to death on the breaking wheel. When this failed to kill her, she was beheaded. According to tradition, angels took her remains to Mount Sinai and the monks from the Sinai Monastery found her remains.
St. Catherine’s Monastery comprises the entire Orthodox Church and surrounded on all sides by a massive wall, provided by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century.
The entrance is now through a smaller gate to the left of the main gate.
The holiest part of the monastery is the burning bush that was seen by Moses. The Chapel of the Burning Bush was built with its altar and incorporates the 4th-century chapel built by Empress St. Helena. The chapel is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Inside, the basilica has a nave, two side aisles, an apse and a narthex. The nave is bordered by massive granite columns with capitals decorated with Christian symbols. Each aisle has three chapels and there is a chapel on each side of the apse. Next to the main altar is a sarcophagus with the relics of St. Catherine (head and hand).
The neo-Classical bell tower was built in 1871 by one of the monks, Gregorius. It houses nine bells given by the Tsar of Russia.