Service to Christianity
Pictures: (left) Mt Sinai; (below) depiction of the ten Commandments; (below2) a monk talks to some visitors; (below3) a page of the Codex sinaiticus; (below3) the head of St Catherine
Being at the foot of Mt Sinai, St Catherine's monastery is in a location which is believed to be the holy mountain that is mentioned multiple times in the Bible. Mt Sinai is the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments and the design for the Ark of the Covenant. The monastery itself is on what is thought to be the place where Moses talked to God at the burning bush. The fact that there is a very rare species of plant that is very long lived on the site helps lend credibility to the events in the Bible.
For over 1,000 years Mt Sinai and St Catherine's Monastery have been sites of devotion to God. Since the middle of the 3rd century there has been monastic life in the region around Mt Sinai. St Antony inspired many people to give up their possessions to lead a life of strict spiritual discipline. The population of hermits on the mountain was what prompted St Helena to build the church at the site where St Catherine's Monastery now stands. By the 5th century a Bishop had been appointed, this was when the Sinai monks requested assistance from emperor Justinian. He built a magnificent church and surrounded it with strong walls, and so the Monastery of St Catherine was created. Even when Christian life on the Sinai Peninsula had all but vanished and the number of monks at the monastery had reduced to 30, the monastery survived. Although at times the monks were living close to starvation they continued with their devotion to God.
The monastery is in possession of, or has been in possession of, many important artifacts that have Christian significance. One of these is the Codex Sinaiticus, a 4th century uncial manuscript of the Greek Bible written between 330-350. Originally it contained the whole of both testaments, now only portions of the Greek Old testament or Septuagint are still in existence, along with the whole New Testament, the Epistle of Barnabas, and portions of The Shepherd of Hermas. Twelve missing leaves from the Sinaiticus Old testament were discovered in a room beneath the Chapel during restoration in1875.
Constantin von Tischendorf, who visited on several occasions, negotiated with the monks until they let him have it. However, according to the monks at the monastery it was stolen as they claim that he promised to return it, which he did not. As well as the Codex the monastery has many other artifacts. These include many artworks and the head and hand of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. More on monastery’s artifacts.