دير سانت كاترين

( Saint Catherine's Monastery )

Saint Catherine's Monastery (Arabic: دير القدّيسة كاترين Dayr al-Qiddīsa Katrīn; Greek: Μονὴ τῆς Ἁγίας Αἰκατερίνης, officially the Sacred Autonomous Royal Monastery of Saint Catherine of the Holy and God-Trodden Mount Sinai, is a Christian monastery located in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. Located at the foot of Mount Sinai, it was built between 548 and 565, and is the world's oldest continuously inhabited Christian monastery.

The monastery was built by the orders of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I, enclosing what is claimed to be the burning bush seen by Moses. Centuries later, the purported body of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, said to have been found in the area, was taken to the monastery; Saint Catherine's relics turned it into an important pilgrimage site, and the monastery was eventually renamed after the saint.

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Saint Catherine's Monastery (Arabic: دير القدّيسة كاترين Dayr al-Qiddīsa Katrīn; Greek: Μονὴ τῆς Ἁγίας Αἰκατερίνης, officially the Sacred Autonomous Royal Monastery of Saint Catherine of the Holy and God-Trodden Mount Sinai, is a Christian monastery located in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. Located at the foot of Mount Sinai, it was built between 548 and 565, and is the world's oldest continuously inhabited Christian monastery.

The monastery was built by the orders of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I, enclosing what is claimed to be the burning bush seen by Moses. Centuries later, the purported body of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, said to have been found in the area, was taken to the monastery; Saint Catherine's relics turned it into an important pilgrimage site, and the monastery was eventually renamed after the saint.

Controlled by the autonomous Church of Sinai, which is part of the wider Greek Orthodox Church, the monastery became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002 for its unique importance in the traditions of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.

The site also holds the world's oldest continually operating library, with unique or extremely rare works, such as the Codex Sinaiticus and the Syriac Sinaiticus, as well as possibly the largest collection of early Christian icons, including the earliest known depiction of Jesus as Christ Pantocrator.

Saint Catherine's has as its backdrop the three mountains it lies near: Ras Sufsafeh (possibly the Biblical Mount Horeb, peak c.1 km (0.62 mi) west); Jebel Arrenziyeb, peak c.1km south; and Mount Sinai (locally, Jebel Musa, by tradition identified with the biblical Mount Sinai; peak c. 2 km (1.2 mi) south).

The oldest record of monastic life at Mount Sinai comes from the travel journal written in Latin by a pilgrim woman named Egeria (Etheria; Saint Sylvia of Aquitaine) about 381/2–386.[1][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 Empress Consort Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, at the site where Moses is supposed to have seen the burning bush.[3] The living bush on the grounds is purportedly the one seen by Moses.[4] Structurally the monastery's king post truss is the oldest known surviving roof truss in the world.[5]

 
1899 map of the monastery surroundings
 
2011 photo from the north of the monastery, facing southwards
Saint Catherine's Monastery is located in the shadow of a group of three mountains: Ras Sufsafeh/"Mount Horeb" (peak c. 1 km west), Jebel Arrenziyeb (peak c. 1 km south) and Jebel Musa/"Biblical Mount Sinai" (peak c. 2 km south)

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. Throughout the Middle Ages, the monastery had a multiethnic profile, with monks of Arab, Greek, Syrian, Slavonic and Georgian origin. However, in the Ottoman period the monastic community became almost exclusively Greek, possibly due to the decline and depopulation of Transjordanian Christian towns. From the 1480s onwards, the Wallachian princes started sending out alms to the monastery.[6]

For most of the time of the Mamluk Sultanate the monastery was able to prosper, but as the sultanate started to decline, it went through a crisis. While there had been several hundred monks in the mid-14th century, a hundred years later there were only several dozens. Bedouin tribes started harrasing the community, robbing their property of the Christian coastal village of Al-Tur and in 1505, the monastery was captured and sacked. Though the sultan demanded that the property be returned to the monks, the Mamluk government was unable to subdue the nomads and preserve order. The German explorer Martin Baumgarten visited the monastery in 1507 and noticed its decline.[6]

 
Saint Catherine's Monastery by Leavitt Hunt, 1852
 
Saint Catherine's Monastery, 1968

A mosque was created by converting an existing chapel during the Fatimid Caliphate (909–1171), which was in regular use until the era of the Mamluk Sultanate in the 13th century and is still in use today on special occasions. During the Ottoman Empire, the mosque was in desolate condition; it was restored in the early 20th century.[7]

During the seventh century, the isolated Christian anchorites of the Sinai were eliminated: only the fortified monastery remained. The monastery is surrounded by the massive fortifications that have preserved it. Until the twentieth century, access was through a door high in the outer walls.

The monastery, along with several dependencies in the area, constitute the entire Church of Sinai, which is headed by an archbishop, who is also the abbot of the monastery. The exact administrative status of the church within the Eastern Orthodox Church is ambiguous: by some, including the church itself,[8] it is considered autocephalous,[9][10] by others an autonomous church under the jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem.[11] The archbishop is traditionally consecrated by the Greek 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 courts.

On April 18, 2017, an attack by the Islamic State group at a checkpoint near the Monastery killed one policeman and injured three police officers.[12]

^ John Wilkinson (2015), Egeria's travels (Oxford: Oxbow Books). ISBN 978-0-85668-710-5 ^ "The Pilgrimage of Egeria". www.ccel.org. Retrieved 2023-07-22. ^ Schrope, Mark (September 6, 2012). "In the Sinai, a global team is revolutionizing the preservation of ancient manuscripts". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved July 2, 2018. ^ "Is the Burning Bush Still Burning?". Friends of Mount Sinai Monastery. Retrieved July 2, 2018. ^ Feilden, Bernard M.. Conservation of historic buildings. 3rd ed. Oxford: Architectural Press, 2003. p. 51. ISBN 0750658630 ^ a b Panchenko, Constantine A. (24 August 2021). "The "Dark Age" of Middle Eastern Monasticism". Arabic Christianity between the Ottoman Levant and Eastern Europe. BRILL. pp. 33–36. ISBN 978-90-04-46583-1. Retrieved 18 January 2024. ^ "Saint Catherine Area". ^ 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) ^ Weitzmann, Kurt, in: Galey, John; Sinai and the Monastery of St. Catherine, p. 14, Doubleday, New York (1980) ISBN 0-385-17110-2 ^ 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." ^ The Orthodox Church of Mount Sinai CNEWA Canada, "A papal agency for humanitarian and pastoral support" Archived May 30, 2010, at the Wayback Machine ^ "Deadly attack near Egypt's old monastery". BBC News. April 19, 2017. Retrieved July 2, 2018.
Photographies by:
Joonas Plaan - CC BY 2.0
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