St Catherine Monastery and Mount Sinai
A Christian Heritage tour at the Egyptian peninsula
St Catherine Monastery is reputed by UNESKO to be the oldest working Christian monastery in the world and is considered an UNESKO world heritage site. It is located at the foot of Mt. Sinai, raising an impressive hight above sea level. St Catherine monastery was built some 1500 years ago by the Roman Emperor Justinian.
St Catherine monastery harbors many interesting nooks and crannies. If luck is on your side, you will be allowed to visit “the room of skulls”, a resting place for the skulls of deceased resident monks that is morbidly fascinating. The monastery itself is an interesting architectural piece, full of artifacts and tomes.
The monastery’s spiritual heart is the Chapel of the Burning Bush, a structure of great religious importance. According to tradition, the chapel sits on top the roots of the Biblical bush “that burned with fire, and was not consumed” (Exodus 3:2) when God spoke to Moses for the very first time.
The bush itself, a rare species of the rose family, sits a few meters away. The bush is said to have been transplanted in the 10th century, when the chapel was built. Today, many monks and scholars agree that the bush’s presence is the very reason St. Catherine’s Monastery developed in the first place.
Mount Sinai area is located some 170 kilometers from the town of Taba and about 35 kilometers from Nuweiba’s coast.
Interestingly, mount Sinai is locally referred to as “Jabel Musa”, or Mount Moses. Traditionally the mountain is believed to be where Moses received the divine Ten Commandments from the hands of god. Due to the large numbers of Christian pilgrims, local authorities have regulated the visits to the monastery and the climb up the holy mountain. The climb to mount Sinai is traditionally done at sunrise, a truly awesome experience for any believer or nature lover.
Climbing the mountain is often assisted by a local “Dalal”, a Bedouin guide and some take the long trip on the back of a camel.
The ancient road up the mountain is a winding road made of hundreds of stairs. Most visitors take a shortcut camel ride which brings them approximately two thirds up the road. Even so, the majestic road lasts several hours and ends at a small mountaintop chapel.
St Catherine area is sprinkled with corners of oasis, fruit orchards and sweet water pools. Locals operate small tea houses and mingling amongst them is an enjoyable experience during and after the long climb.
Temperatures can get quite chilly mountaintop, especially in the early hours of the morning. Long garments are recommended, for your own comfort as well as for modesty while you visit the monastery grounds.
If you have taken your trip for reasons of faith, the truly majestic ancient views or the historical maze of the actual monastery’s structure, Santa Catherina, as referred to by local Sinai dwellers and Jabel Musa are sites not to be missed when visiting Sinai’s peninsula.
Come with us and experience it all for yourself in our 15 day tour, including Israel, Egypt and Jordan.