A brief history of St Catherine’s Monastery

Saint Catherine's Monastery is an Eastern Orthodox monastery located in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

It is situated near the town of Saint Catherine and at the foot of Mount Sinai. Named after Catherine of Alexandria, the Monastery is part of the Greek Orthodox Church and is controlled by the Church of Sinai. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and holds the world’s oldest constantly operating library. 

The history of its founding can be traced back to AD .330 when empress Helena of Byzantine had a chapel built for local hermits.

The structure was constructed beside what was believed to be the Burning Bush, where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God.

The site was built between AD. 548 and AD. 565 and is one of the oldest working Christian monasteries.

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It is named after St Catherine, a Christian martyr who was sentenced to death on the breaking wheel. The tradition says her body was transported to the peaks of Mount Saint Catherine by angels. Monks from the Sinai Monastery found her remains around the year 800.

Emperor Justinian I, during the 6th century, ordered a fortress to be built around the original chapel, along with a basilica and a monastery. This was to offer secure homes for the monastic communities and the Christians living in southern Sinai.

An existing chapel was converted into a mosque during the Fatimid Caliphate, around 909. It was frequently used until the era of Mamluk Sultanate in the 13th century. Today, it is only used on special occasions.

The monastery to this day is surrounded by the immense fortifications that preserve the location. Up until the 20th century, the only access was through a door high up in the outer walls.

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According to the traditions conserved, Mohammed knew about it and visited the monastery and the Sinai Fathers. The Quran has mentions the holy Sinai sites. In AD 623, a delegation from the province requested a letter of protection from Mohammed. He authorized and granted it.

The Letter of Protection is known as the Ahtiname, it derives from the Arabic word “ahd” and “name”. The document has been an imperative item in the protection of the holy land. In 1517, Sultan Selim I took the original letter and put it in the royal treasury in Constantinople for safekeeping. He provided the monastery certified copies of the document.

In 1797, Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Egypt. He placed St Catherine’s under his protection and granted the spot a certification with his signature. He funded the renovations for the northern walls of the fortress, which had been damaged by the 1798 floods.

Over the years, many people from throughout the world have come to the place as pilgrims. Today, an access road has been built to make the journey easier, as previously the journey used to be hazardous. It has become a popular day trip location from Sharm El Sheikh and Dahab.

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Address Monasterio de Santa Catalina del Monte Sinaí, Saint Catherine, Egypt

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A brief history of St Catherine’s Monastery

Monasterio de Santa Catalina del Monte Sinaí, Saint Catherine, Egypt