(active 6th century in Egypt)

General view

Saint Catherine's Monastery, Sinai Peninsula, Egypt

Saint Catherine's Monastery lies on the Sinai Peninsula, at the mouth of a gorge at the foot of Mount Sinai, near the town of Saint Catherine, Egypt.

Built between 548 and 565, the monastery is one of the oldest working Christian monasteries in the world. The site contains the world's oldest continually operating library, possessing many unique books.

The monastery is surrounded by walls (height 12–15 m), which date mainly from the 6th century, they served not only for the monks' protection but also as a garrison against the Arab incursions into Palestine. Their upper sections collapsed after an earthquake in 1312 but were restored in 1801 by Marshal Kléber on the instructions of Napoleon.

Within the trapezoidal enclosure (85 x 70 m) stands a basilical church built of local basalt. It has gabled ends and two towers flanking the west façade. The names of Justinian, his consort Theodora and the builder Stephanos of Aila on the Gulf of Aqaba are inscribed on three of its roof trusses.

The wide central nave is separated from the two adjacent aisles by twelve free-standing columns, six on each side, surmounted by capitals carved in the local stone. Eight chapels, four on each side, adjoin the aisles, at whose east ends stand two 6th-century doors sheathed in their original bronze: they give access to two square, domed chapels flanking the main apse. Between these chapels and behind the apse is the chapel of the Burning Bush covering a courtyard where the Bush was supposed to have grown.

To the north of the church is a two-storey oblong building which originally served as a guest-house but was converted to a mosque in 1106. The other conventual buildings are of a later date and include several chapels, a refectory and a library.

The monastery complex houses irreplaceable works of art: mosaics, the best collection of early icons in the world, many in encaustic, as well as liturgical objects, chalices and reliquaries, and church buildings.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.