Saturday, August 22, 2009

day 76, Sinai, Egypt(9)

We are absolutely in awe of all these monuments in Egypt!!

Now Feroz has had enough of all of this and wants to go diving in Sharm el-Sheikh since it has the best diving sites in the world!

Sorry Feroz, we have a really tight we simply have to move on.

Ok, guys let's take a camel ride to the summit of Mount Sinai (2285m), a.k.a. Mount Moses or Mount Horeb. This is identified as the mountain where Moses received the Tablets of the Law from God. The main route to the summit is known as t
he Path of Moses (Arabic: Sikket Sayidna Musa) and is lined with remains of various chapels.

Wow, can you just imagine being Prophet Moses, standing here, receiving the 10 commandments!

Now we are going to St. Catherine's Monastery, an Orthodox monastery on the Sinai peninsula at the foot of Mount Sinai in Egypt.

Because God spoke to Moses in these places, this area is sacred to three world religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

The geographical locations of these biblical events are not known and a wide variety of theories have been offered by scholars. No particular evidence supports the site on which the monastery is built nor for the peak identified as Mount Sinai. Howev
er, the attachment of early Christian monks to these sites is not without significance.

In the early 4th century, St. Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, built the Chapel of the Burning Bush at the site where Moses is supposed to have seen the miracle.

The fortified walls were built around the chapel by the Byzantine emperor and great church-builder Justinian (who also commissioned the Hagia Sophia) starting in 527.

The Church of the Transfiguration was completed by Justinian's workers in the 560s, around the time of his death.

The monastery's actual name is the Monastery of the Transfiguration, but it later
became associated with St. Catherine of Alexandria, a 3rd-century martyr whose head and hand were brought here for safe keeping in the 10th century. St. Catherine's Monastery became a major pilgrimage destination in the Byzantine Era and it still is today.

In 623, a document signed by the Prophet Muhammad himself, the Actiname (Holy Testament), exempted the Christian monks of St. Catherine's from the usual taxes and military service and commanded that Muslims provide the community with every help.

In recognition of this gesture, the St. Catherine'
s monks permitted the conversion of a small Crusader chapel within the monastery to a mosque between 110 1 and 1106 during the Fatimid Caliphate (909-1171). This was in regular use until Mameluke rule in the later 13th century, when it was neglected until its restoration in the early 20th century. It is still used on special occasions by the local Muslims.

In 2002, the area centering on St. Catherine's Monastery was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO because of Mt. Sinai's importance in three major world religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), the natural environment of the area and St. Catherine's historic architecture and art.

Christian symbols, such as crosses and monograms, are carved on the wall i
n various places. Until the 20th century, access was through a door high in the outer walls. The entrance is now through a smaller gate (also original) to the left of the main gate.

The holiest part of the monastery is the large living shrub that is said to be a direct descendant of the very burning bush that was seen by Moses.

The Chapel of the Burning Bush was built with its altar situated above the roots of the bush and incorporates the 4th-century chapel built by Empress St. Helena. The chapel is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The bust itself was transplanted to permit the construction of the altar and now grows a few meters from the chapel. It is a rare species of the rose family called Rubus Sanctus. The bush is native to Sinai and extremely long-lived, facts that help lend credibility to the site.

The main church of the monastery is the Basilica of the Transfiguration (or Katholikon), which was built of granite by the Byzantine architect Stephanos at the same time as the defensive walls. The church structure, the roof, and the carved cedar doors at the entrance are all originals from 527 AD.

The icons, mosaics and works of art that decorate the interior span many centuries.

The doors of the narthex were added by Crusaders in the 11th century.
The neo-Classical bell tower was built in 1871 by one of the monks, Gregorius. It houses nine bells given by the Tsar of Russia.

A continual supply of fresh water is provided to the monastery by the Well of Moses, which taps an underground spring.
According to tradition, this stands on the
very spot where Moses met his future wife, Zipporah, after protecting her and her sisters from an aggressive group of local shepherds (Exodus 2:16-21).

The library at St. Catherine's is the oldest in the Christian world and preserves the second largest collection of early codices and manuscripts in the world (outnumbered only by the Vatican Library). Its collection includes more than 3000 manuscripts and more than 5000 early religious books.

The library also has a precious collection of more than 2000 icons of Christ, Mary and the saints, displayed in a special gallery. These represent almost
every school of Byzantine iconography from the 6th to the 18th century.

Outside the walls is the Monastery Garden, created over many years by the monks. Soil was brought here from elsehwere and tanks were made to store water for irrigation. It contains fruit trees including olives, apricots and plums and produces a variety of vegetables.

Next to the garden is the Cemetery and Charnel House. When the monks die, they are first buried in the cemetery, then after decay their bones are disinterred and deposited in the Charnel House (a crypt beneath the Chapel of St. Trifonio). The bones of the abbot-archbishops are kept in special niches. The Charnel House has both a practical and a spiritual function: it solves the problems of limited space and rocky ground and reminds the monks of the inevitability of death.

We actually saw the great pile of thousands of skulls of past monks.

Hmm, a very interesting UNESCO world heritage site indeed!

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