St Katherine's Monastery Travel Guide

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St. Katherine's Monastery

Howard Banwell

A three-hour journey from Sharm el Sheikh, St Katherine's Monastery lies at the foot of Mount Sinai,  about 100 kilometres inland.  The drive takes you into the heart of the Sinai desert, an awesome terrain of incredible beauty.  Dry gravel wadis – some of them vast – slice barren, jagged hills and mountain ranges, and occasional banks of yellow sand cling to the hillsides like snow drifts.  In the wadis or at the roadside survive ancient acacia trees and tamarisk bushes, or the odd clump of baitharan where Bedouin camels browse the leaves. 

Eventually you begin to climb the valley that leads to the foot of the 2,285 metre Mount Sinai.  Here twenty-two Greek Orthodox monks live in an ancient monastery founded by the Roman empress Helena who built a small chapel beside what was believed to the burning bush from which God spoke to Moses.  Later, in the 6th century, a fortress containing the original chapel, a basilica and a monastery was built by Justinian, and the site has been visited by Christian pilgrims ever since. The walled complex houses the ornate chapel itself as well as an amazing collection of religious icons and jeweled crosses assembled from all over the Orthodox world. Christians, Moslems and Jews alike revere the Mount Sinai region, and although it is now easy to reach by road, the surroundings of St. Katherine's are spectacularly rugged and starkly beautiful. (Contributed by Howard Banwell)

 

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