St. Catherine 2017-10-31T17:32:50+00:00

The St. Catherine Protectorate, South Sinai, Egypt

The Sinai Peninsula with its glorious and variant religious monuments and spots has gained a great significance for the followers of Divine religions as it had witnessed famous religious mysteries and miracles. Variant religious monuments and spots mirror multiculturalism, owing to the strategic location of the Sinai Peninsula. Accordingly, the Peninsula has turned out to be one of the world’s top cultural heritage sites.

The St. Catherine Protectorate:

Overview:

 

St Catherine Protectorate is a national park in the South of Sinai, with a total surface area of around 4300 km2. It has two categories: the core” area and a “cluster of satellites”. The “core” area is a geological features within the boundaries of Pre-Cambrian ring dike/dyke which was formed over 600 million years old. All glorious cultural and natural heritage sites, inter alia, Mount Sinai, Wadi Feiran watershed, and the Monastery of St. Catherine located within the core area that harbours numerous species.

The “cluster of satellites” hosts numerous natural and cultural heritages other than those located within the core area, namely, Gabal Serbal, and Gabal Umm Shomer, harbouring more endemic species than the core area. Gabal Serbal, particularly, has a considerable number of Alpine mosses and endemic higher plants. Serabit Al-Khadem which highlights the oldest alphabet in history; the Nuns’ Convent and its archaeological perimeter in the sea bed of Wadi Feiran.

Why St. Catherine Protectorate is Unique?

Climate:

The climate of St. Catherine is purely arid with annual rainfall of around 60 mm. Precipitation could peak when moist air uplifted, causing arographic precipitation or snow that may mount to 300 mm per year. Rainfall sporadically falls between October and May. Mean temperatures reach up to 36° in August, and decrease to -7.8° in February inasmuch as the climate of St. Catherine resembles the Saharan-Mediterranian one.  Nearby the Red Sea coast, the climate is quite different as temperatures range from 13° to 23° C in the winter season;  20°-30° ; 25°-35° C in the spring season, and  20°-30° C in the summer season.  In addition, precipitation does not surpass 20 mm per year, as well as the average moderate humidity is 60% in the Southern tip.

Geomorphology:

Gebel Katherina (2641 m), Gebel Mousa (2300 m), Gebel Umm Shomar (2586 m) , and Gebel Serbal (2070 m) are a group of high, extremely rugged and metamorphic  mountains with rocky gorges that form one of Egypt’s highly rugged tracts.

According to WHC criteria, the Protectorate has been classified as a Cultural World Heritage Property; Cultural Landscape, and Natural World Heritage Property

Cultural World Heritage Property:

 

Its rare Byzantine buildings and monasteries are of historic, touristic and religious importance as they testify distinctive interchange of human values. They further reflect an impressive and incredible peaceful coexistence and religious tolerance on one hand, and mutual respect and understanding on the other hand. The authentic style of the Byzantine buildings in which churches and mosques are inseparable also contributes to their universal value.

 

History and Development:

  Since St Catherine area witnessed the birth of the three Monotheistic religions, it’s been classified as the World Heritage Property. Its universal religious significance is on account of the notable combination of religious and cultural values and features. According to Bible, Mount Sinai is the spot where God had trod and appeared through the Burning Bush, and subsequently Moses met God and received the ten Commandments.

The Well of Moses is under the roof of the Monastery of St. Catherine.  It’s the sole place where the Israelites could drink when they are bewildered. On the right hand side, the Golden Calf that’s attached to the mountain cliff when Moses violently threw it away is found.  

The Burning Bush:

The Burning Bush, which witnessed the miraculous conversation between God and Moses,  is found within the Monastery. It’s the place where the Lord ordered Moses to take off his slippers, and Moses settled on the top of the Mountain for 40 days prior receiving the 10 Commandments. 

The Nabataeans Inscriptions :

Thousands of Nabataen inscriptions are scattered in Sinai, either in mountainsides, caravan paths or mining sites. The inscriptions portray the history of Nabataeans who settled in Sinai, and defeated King Antigones of Asia who sought to invade Sinai. As a result, they mined coins with their rulers’ (royals) names. They became powerful and wealthy as they brought timber, spices, cotton, Ceylon, and silk  from Africa and Asia, and given that Sinai since was considered a world trade hub.

Wadi Feiran:

Wadi Feiran hosts Gabal Al-Tahuna where numerous small churches, tombs of hermits, cellas and monks are found.

The Monastery of St. Catherine is the holy of holies for the followers of Divine religions as it is the only intact Byzantine monument in the world since the 4th century. This sacred site, where a Fatimid mosque exists, remained fully intact, and enormously maintained its authenticity with minimal departures and deviations, albeit of the uncomfortable desert environment, isolation, and limited restoration attempts. Yet, its initial architectural style has slightly changed throughout the history of mankind, owing to rigorous repairs made by the monks and the Bedouins, the current architectural style preserve the sacred monument from obliteration.      

Brief History:

In the aftermath of the collapse of Petra and the Nabataeans, and the withdrawal of the Romans in the second half of the 4th century, chaos prevailed from the River of Jordan to the Red Sea. Thus, in response to Hemits’ request, Justinian ordered the construction of two-purpose fort for protecting the monks and securing the passage from Aqaba to Suez. 

For worship’s sake, hermits of Sinai in general and hermits of Wadi Feiran and ancient El-Tor in particular settled in the Monastery of St. Catherine, the only existing monument of the Byzantine era. It further attracted pilgrims since 337 AD, when Empress Helena ordered the construction of a sanctuary to surround the site of Burning Bush at the foot of Mount Sinai.

Monastery Description:

The inner buildings of the Monastery mirror different ages. The length of the Justinian wall that surrounds the Monastery is 85 m, as well as its width is of 75 m, and its thickness is of 2.25 m. The Monastery of St. Catherine is built at Egypt’s highest mountain peaks. 

In the northeast corner of the Justinian wall, the Transfiguration, the main church in the Monastery with a length of 38 m and a width of 19 m, is located. On the occasion of Justinian’s death, the Transfiguration or formally known as Virgin Mary was constructed within 561-565 A.D. Its architectural style reflects the Roman Basilian one. Various paintings, including those of the Christ, the Prophets, the Church Fathers, and the Apostles, are placed next to each other alongside the semi-circular altar, forming an exceptional and an unforgettable view. This harmonization provides a perfect opportunity for traversing and exploring the chronicles of religions

The Flight of the Holy Family

The Holy Family departed from Bethlehem to Gaza, and later they headed to El-Zaraniq, about 37 km El-Arish. The Holy Family subsequently threaded its way along northern Sinai, and eventually reached Farma, the Family’s final destination in Sinai. The Family headed to Basta town, near Zagazig afterward. As the Family headed southwards, it reached the town of Mostorod or were known as Al-Mahamma (the Bathing Place) as it was the place where Virgin Mary bathed the Christ. From Mostorod, they moved to  Belbeis where the Holy Family rested under a tree that turned to be known as the “Virgin Mary’s Tree”. Later on, the Family moved to the tiny town of Meniet Samannoud where a huge granite was used for kneading dough, and a water-well in which the Christ hallowed are found. Then, the Holy Family passed through many towns and cities in Al-Gharbeya and Kafr El-Sheikh as long as the Family threaded its way to the town of Sakha where the footprint of the Christ was marked. From Sakha, the Holy Family crossed the Rosetta branch, and head to Wadi El-Natroun in the western desert which became a place for anchoretic settlement.

  The Family headed southwards, reaching Matarayah where Mary’s Tree is found; Ain Shams where the Christ drank from a water spring; Zeitoun where plenty of Coptic landmarks are found. The Family subsequently proceeded to Old Cairo where many churches, for instance, the Church of Virgin Mary in Zuweilla Alley, the Convent of the Virgin Mary and the Cathedral of St Mark in Azbekiehs, are built. As long as the Holy Family settled in Al-Garous Monastery Maghagha, the Holy Family drank water whenever needed from a deep dwell located outside the Church. The Family later headed to Gabal Al-Tair, Samalout, following its visit to Bahnassa. At the course of the Holy Family’s visit to Gabal Al-Tair, Jesus Christ stretched his hand to preclude a rock from being detached from the mountain. Following its visit to Gabal Al-Tair, the Holy Family traveled to the town of Al-Ashmounein, Malawy. Then, the Family settled in the Monastery of Al-Muharraq   which was a safe haven for the  Holy Family who settled there for more than six months. Eventually, the Family headed to Mount Dronka.   

In the northeast corner of the Justinian wall, the Transfiguration, the main church in the Monastery with a length of 38 m and a width of 19 m, is located. On the occasion of Justinian’s death, the Transfiguration or formally known as Virgin Mary was constructed within 561-565 A.D. Its architectural style reflects the Roman Basilian one. Various paintings, including those of the Christ, the Prophets, the Church Fathers, and the Apostles, are placed next to each other alongside the semi-circular altar, forming an exceptional and an unforgettable view. This harmonization provides a perfect opportunity for traversing and exploring the chronicles of religions