The Monastery of St. Catherine is located at an altitude of about 4925 feet in the Wadi el-Deir at the foot of Gebel Musa. Tradition identifies this as the site where Moses tended the flocks of Jethro and saw the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-4:17). The Monastery was built near the middle of the sixth century A.D. during the reign of the emperor Justinian. It is dedicated to Saint Catherine of Alexandria and is the oldest continuously inhabited convent in the Christian world. Through the centuries many monks have lived there; today it houses fewer than a dozen Greek Orthodox monks.
The monastery became a great center of over 3000 old manuscripts and over 2000 icons. Only the Vatican library has more manuscripts. The Sinaitic Manuscript (Aleph) of the Bible was discovered by Constantine Tischendorff in 1844. The Sinaitic is the oldest surviving complete manuscript of the New Testament (about 350 A.D.). In 1975 the monks at the monastery found a large number of previously unknown documents. (One interesting recent book dealing with the monastery and its manuscripts is Secrets of Mount Sinai by James Bentley.)The bedouin who work at the Monastery are called Jabaliye (Arabic for People of the Mountain).
“According to their tradition they are descendants of Christian slaves who were brought here by Emperor Justinian from Wallachia, today Rumania, as builders of the monastery and later its guards. In the course of time, when Sinai came under strict Moslem rule they were compelled to embrace Islam” (Vilnay, The Guide to Israel, 564).
There is a mosque within the monastery walls.
I have had an opportunity to visit the area of Gebel Musa a few fimes, and to visit the monastery a couple of times. Here is a photo of the monastery that I made on my last visit to the area in 2005.
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