St. Catherine Monastery in the Sinai, a symbol of Christianity

St. Catherine Monastery in the Sinai, a symbol of Christianity

By Guilhem Dubernet/

An attack in circumstances that are still unclear took place on the evening of April 18 near the Saint Catherine Monastery in Egypt’s Sinai region. The site is one of the most ancient in Christianity.

Members of the Saint Catherine Monastery say that the monument is lucky to have survived 1,700 years without being abandoned or destroyed. This makes it the oldest continuously occupied monastery in the history of Christianity.

However, on the evening of Tuesday, April 18, armed men “opened fired in the direction of a control point on the road leading to Saint Catherine in the south of the Sinai", according to the Egyptian Ministry of the Interior, quoted by AFP.

A policeman was killed in the clash and ISIS claimed responsibility.

Burning bush

For several months now, extremist groups via its Sinai branch has been targeting Egyptian Christians, causing many Coptic families living on the peninsula to flee. It is probable that the jihadists this time attempted to attack the Saint Catherine monastery, which is a highly symbolic Christian location.

In fact, the site is a very significant pilgrimage site for many Christians since it is believed to be built in the very place where Moses saw the burning bush at the foot of the peak where he later received the tablets of the ten commandments.

Although an Orthodox monastery and located in Egypt, it is not Coptic but is attached to the Autocephalic Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

Extremely rare Byzantine icons

The isolation of the monastery combined with Muslim rule initially enabled it to escape the iconoclastic fury of the Byzantine emperors of the 8th and 9th centuries. The monument can thus boast a collection of very rare Byzantine icons dating from before that period.

The quality of the mosaics and mural paintings that decorate the monastery also led to its classification as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2002.

The site is also a showcase for many documents of major interest for the study of the history of Christianity. The Saint Catherine website states that there are 3,300 manuscripts preserved there written in Greek, Persian, Polish, Hebrew and other languages.

For several centuries, the monastery also housed the Codex Sinaiticus, the oldest known complete transcription of the New Testament created in the 4th century. However, the manuscript was later taken to Russia before being sold to the United Kingdom during the 20th century. In Egypt, only several pages and fragments were left.

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 13:34
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