Artifacts


Over the 1,400 years it has been in existence, St Catherine’s Monastery has built up a collection of thousands of unique artifacts.

 

 (above) the library at St. Catherines

 St Catherine’s monastery is home to an ancient library containing 5,000 early printed books, 3,500 manuscripts, and 2,000 scrolls (in Greek, Coptic, Arabic, Armenian, Hebrew, Slavic, Georgian and other languages). The age and diversity of the collection is only equalled by that of the Vatican, making it the second best in the world.

 

Much of the collection is very well preserved, such as the monastery’s first editions of Plato and Homer and biblical fragments from the 4th century, which are almost in the same condition they were in over 1,000 years ago. A lot of the preservation can be owed to the arid mountain climate in which they are situated.

 

Among the collection are fragments of one of the oldest surviving Bibles, the Codex Sinaiticus, dating from the 4th century. St Catherine’s possessed the entire manuscript, until, in the 19th century, a German academic persuaded the monks to lend it to him for research. The monks never saw it again. After passing through many hands, it ended up in the British Museum. In 1975 the fragments were found in the north wall of the monastery, and are now on display in a special glass case with fibre-optic lighting, as a reminder that they once had the whole thing.                   

 

The monastery also owns some 2,000 icons, religious artefacts, and other curios, including, fine sacerdotal ornaments, marbles, enamels, chalices, reliquaries and priceless works of art in the form of mosaics, Greek and Russian icons, Western oil paintings, paintings on wax, and various others.

 (above), a small reliquary with bones of various Saints, placed within the sanctuary of the main church; (left), An icon showing St. Catherine, and
also showing scenes of her martyrdom

 

Among the collection are items donated by Czar Alexander II in the 19th century, Empress Catherine of Russia in the 17th century, and a silver and enamel chalice from King Charles VI of France in 1411 which was so unusual that the Louvre Museum in Paris recently asked to borrow it for an exhibit.

 Depiction of Christ

Today, under the watchful eye of the archbishop Damianos, the collection of religious and cultural artefacts are being slowly opened to the public. The first stage was the opening of a small museum inside the monastery walls. Its nine rooms display some of the finest items in the collection, including: a 6th century depiction of Christ that is linked to the monastery, 9th century parchments written in Syriac, rare Slavonic prayer books and an illuminated copy of the Gospels from 995.

 

When interviewed, Father Justin (from the monastery), said “All of the manuscripts and icons and other ecclesiastical treasures here were created for use in the services and to inspire the monks in their spiritual dedication, and they remain in that context today”; this makes the collection even more significant.