Saint Catherine’s Monastery

Nestled between the sharp mountain peaks of the Sinai Mountains in Egypt, St. Catherine’s Monastery has been a sacred destination for centuries. One of the world’s oldest working monasteries, it sits at the foot of Mount Sinai, the site of the Old Testament’s account of Moses and the Ten Commandments.

Founded in the Sixth Century AD, St. Catherine’s Monastery is considered the oldest and most famous working Christian monasteries in the world. The monastery was built by order of the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I, at the site where Moses saw the burning bush. It is believed that the oldest surviving roof truss in the world is located at St. Catherine’s Monastery.

The monastery is also famous for housing the world’s oldest continuously operating library. It contains the world’s second largest collection of ancient scrolls and manuscripts, second only to the Vatican. The most impressive literary document, Codex Sinaiticus, is the oldest known complete Bible (circa 345 AD) and was discovered inside the premises of St. Catherine’s Monastery in 19th century.

The most sacred part of St Catherine’s Monastery is the Chapel of the Burning Bush, a small chamber behind the altar of the basilica. When open to the public, those who enter must remove their shoes, just as Moses did when he approached the burning bush as described in Exodus 3:2-5. Under the chapel’s altar is a silver star that is believed to mark the site of the burning bush from which God called Moses to lead His people out of Egypt.

St Catherine’s Monastery also encompasses the Well of Moses, where Moses is said to have met his wife. As told in Exodus 2:15-21, Moses was at the well when the seven daughters of Jethro came to draw water. A group of shepherds tried to steal the water from the women and Moses came to their defense. In gratitude, Jethro invited Moses to his home and gave him his daughter Zipporah in marriage.

The monastery is dedicated to the Transfiguration but was renamed for Saint Catherine of Alexandria, a 3rd-century martyr. Catherine was sentenced to death on the wheel. When this failed to kill her, she was beheaded. According to legend, angels took her remains to Mount Sinai. Around the year 800, monks from the Sinai Monastery found her incorrupt body and brought her body back to the monastery. To the right of the altar in the basilica is a marble tomb with two silver caskets containing the St.’s skull and left hand.

The monastery has in recent times become a major Holy Land destination visited by thousands of travelers each year. Many visitors to the monastery also make the hike or camel ride to the summit of Mount Sinai, the mountain where Moses received the Ten Commandments. Visitors are required to cover their upper arms and knees. Shorts, short skirts and sleeveless tops are banned for both males and females. For more information, visit

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Kelly Wise Valdes
Kelly Wise Valdes has been writing for the Osprey Observer since 2008. She graduated in 1989 from Florida Southern College with a B.S. in Communications and enjoys writing and traveling. She currently resides in northern Hillsborough County with her husband, David. When not traveling and writing, Kelly and her husband enjoy spending time with their five grown children (as well as their grandchildren) that still keep them very busy.