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Saint Catherine's Monastery
Greek Orthodox monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai, 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 as the Codex Sinaiticus until 1859 with recently new folios coming to light, including the Syriac Sinaiticus.
During Catherine's imprisonment more than 200 people came to see her, including Maxentius' wife, Valeria Maximilla; all converted to Christianity and were subsequently martyred. The furious emperor condemned Catherine to death on a spiked breaking wheel, but, at her touch, it shattered. Maxentius ordered her to be beheaded. Catherine herself ordered the execution to commence. A milk-like substance rather than blood flowed from her neck.
Although it is commonly known as Saint Catherine's, the monastery's full official name is the Sacred Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount Sinai. The patronal feast of the monastery is the Feast of the Transfiguration. The monastery has become a favorite site of pilgrimage.
1899 map of the monastery surroundings
2011 photo from the north of the monastery, facing southwards
A mosque was created by converting an existing chapel during the Fatimid Caliphate (909-1171), which was in regular use until the era of the Mamluk Sultanate in the 13th century and is still in use today on special occasions. During the Ottoman Empire, the mosque was in desolate condition; it was restored in the early 20th century.
During the seventh century, the isolated Christian anchorites of the Sinai were eliminated: only the fortified monastery remained. The monastery is still surrounded by the massive fortifications that have preserved it. Until the twentieth century, access was through a door high in the outer walls. From the time of the First Crusade, the presence of Crusaders in the Sinai until 1270 spurred the interest of European Christians and increased the number of intrepid pilgrims who visited the monastery. The monastery was supported by its dependencies in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Crete, Cyprus and Constantinople.
In May 1844 and February 1859, Constantin von Tischendorf visited the monastery for research and discovered the Codex Sinaiticus, dating from the 4th Century, at the time the oldest almost completely preserved manuscript of the Bible. The finding from 1859 left the monastery in the 19th century for Russia, in circumstances that had been long disputed. But in 2003 Russian scholars discovered the donation act for the manuscript signed by the Council of Cairo Metochion and Archbishop Callistratus on 13 November 1869. The monastery received 9000 rubles as a gift from Tsar Alexander II of Russia. The Codex was sold by Stalin in 1933 to the British Museum and is now in the British Library, London, where it is on public display. Prior to September 1, 2009, a previously unseen fragment of Codex Sinaiticus was discovered in the monastery's library., as well as among the New Finds of 1975. On other visits (1855, 1859) Constantin von Tischendorf also amassed there more valualable manuscripts (Greek, Christian Palestinian Aramaic, Georgian, Syriac) and took them with him to St Petersburg and Leipzig, where they are stored today.
Additionally, the monastery houses a copy of Mok'c'evay K'art'lisay, a collection of supplementary books of the Kartlis Cxovreba, dating from the 9th century.
The most important manuscripts have since been filmed or digitized, and so are accessible to scholars. With planning assistance from Ligatus, a research center of the University of the Arts London, the library was extensively renovated, reopening at the end of 2017.
Palimpsests are notable for having been reused one or more times over the centuries. Since parchment was expensive and time consuming to produce, monks would erase certain texts with orange juice or scrap them off and write over them. Though the original texts were once assumed to be lost, the imaging scientists used narrowband multispectral imaging techniques and technologies to reveal features that were difficult to see with the human eye, including ink residues and small grooves in the parchment. Each page took approximately eight minutes to scan completely. These images have subsequently been digitized and are now freely available for research at the UCLA Online Library for scholarly use.
The 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. The large icon collection begins with a few dating to the 5th (possibly) and 6th centuries, which are unique survivals; the monastery having been untouched by Byzantine iconoclasm, and never sacked. The oldest icon on an Old Testament theme is also preserved there. A project to catalogue the collections has been ongoing since the 1960s. The monastery was an important centre for the development of the hybrid style of Crusader art, and still retains over 120 icons created in the style, by far the largest collection in existence. Many were evidently created by Latins, probably monks, based in or around the monastery in the 13th century.
Icon of the enthroned Virgin and Child with saints and angels, 6th century
The Saint Catherine's Foundation is a UK-based non-profit organization that aims to preserve the monastery. The conservation of its architectural structures, paintings, and books comprise much of the Foundation's purpose. The Saint Catherine's Foundation works with its academic partner, the Ligatus Research Center at the University of the Arts, London, to raise awareness of the monastery's unique cultural significance via lectures, books and articles. Founded on November 2, 2007 at the Royal Geographical Society in London needs new funds for the conservation workshop, digitization studio and full complement of conservation boxes designed to protect the most vulnerable manuscripts of the monastery. About 2000 manuscripts should be stored in boxes.
^The official Website describes the Church as "? ", , , , " or "administratively 'free, loose, untresspassable, free from anyone at any time, autocephalous'" (see link below)
^Weitzmann, Kurt, in: Galey, John; Sinai and the Monastery of St. Catherine, p. 14, Doubleday, New York (1980) ISBN0-385-17110-2
^Ware, Kallistos (Timothy) (1964). "Part I: History". The Orthodox Church. Penguin Books. Retrieved . Under Introduction Bishop Kallistos says that Sinai is "autocephalous"; under The twentieth century, Greeks and Arabs he states that "There is some disagreement about whether the monastery should be termed an 'autocephalous' or merely an 'autonomous' Church."
^M. F. Brosset (1858), Note sur un manuscrit géorgien de la Bibliothèque Impériale publique et provenant de M. Tischendorf, Mélanges Asiatiques 3, pp. 264-280.
^N. Pigoulewsky (1934), Fragments syro-palestiniens des Psaumes CXXIII-IV, Revue Biblique 43, pp. 519-527.
^N. Pigoulewski (1937), Manuscrits syriaques bibliques de Léningrad, Revue Biblique 46, pp. 83-92; N. Pigoulewski, Manuscrits syriaques bibliques de Léningrad (suite), Revue Biblique 46, 1937, pp. 225-230; 556-562.
^Julius Assfalg (1963), Georgische Handschriften (= Verzeichnis der orientalischen Handschriften in Deutschland, III) (Wiesbaden); Julius Assfalg (1965), Syrische Handschriften (= Verzeichnis der orientalischen Handschriften in Deutschland, V) (Wiesbaden).
^Sebastian P. Brock (2012), Sinai: a Meeting Point of Georgian with Syriac and Christian Palestinian Aramaic, in The Caucasus between East & West (Tbilisi), pp. 482-494.
^Grigory Kessel (2016), Membra Disjecta Sinaitica I: A Reconstitution of the Syriac Galen Palimpsest, in André Binggili et al. (eds.), Manuscripta Graeca et Orientalia: Mélanges monastiques et patristiques en l'honneur de Paul Géhin (Louvain: Peeters), pp. 469-498.
^Paul Géhin (2017), Les manuscrits syriaques de parchemin du Sinaï et leur membra disjecta, CSCO 665 / Subsidia 136 (Louvain: Peeters).
^Keith Knox (Chief Science Advisor, EMEL, USA); Roger Easton (Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science, Rochester, USA); William Christens-Barry (Chief Scientist, Equipoise Imaging, LCC, MD, USA); David Kelbe (Centre for Space Science Technology, Alexandra, New Zealand)
^Ioannis C. Tarnanidis (1988), The Slavonic Manuscripts Discovered in 1975 at St Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai (Thessaloniki).
^Sebastian P. Brock (1995), Catalogue of the "New Finds" in St. Catherine Monastery, Sinai (Athens).
^Panayotis G. Nicolopoulos (1999), The New Finds. Holy Monastery and Archdiocese of Sinai (Athens).
^Zaza Alekzidse, M. Shanidze, L. Khevsuriani, M. Kavtaria (2005), The New Finds of Sinai. Catalogue of Georgian Manuscripts Discovered in 1975 at Saint Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai (Athens).
^Philothee du Sinaï (2008), Nouveaux manuscrits syriaques du Sinaï (Athens).
^Christa Müller-Kessler, Three Early Witnesses of the «Dormition of Mary» in Christian Palestinian Aramaic. Palimpsests from the Cairo Genizah (Taylor-Schechter Collection) and the New Finds in St Catherine's Monastery, Apocrypha 29, 2018, pp. 69-95.
Margaret Dunlop Gibson (1893). How the Codex was Found. A Narrative of Two Visits to Sinai from Mrs. Lewis's Journals. 1892-1893. Cambridge: Macmillan & Bowes.
Agnes Smith Lewis (1898). In the Shadow of Sinai. A Story travel and Research from 1895 to 1897. Cambridge: Macmillan & Bowes.
Oriana Baddeley, Earleen Brunner (1996). The Monastery of St Catherine. pp. 120 pages with 79 colour illustrations. ISBN978-0-9528063-0-1.
Böttrich, Christfried (2011). Der Jahrhundertfund. Entdeckung und Geschichte des Codex Sinaiticus (The Discovery of the Century. Discovery and history of Codex Sinaiticus). Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt. ISBN978-3-374-02586-2.
Forsyth, G. H.; Weitzmann, K. (1973). The Monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai - The Church and Fortress of Justinian: Plates. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN0-472-33000-4.
Panayotis G. Nicolopoulos (1999), The New Finds. Holy Monastery and Archdiocese of Sinai (Athens).
Porter, Stanley E. (2015). Constantine Tischendorf. The Life and Work of a 19th Century Bible Hunter. London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark. ISBN978-0-5676-5803-6.
Schick, Alexander (2015). Tischendorf und die älteste Bibel der Welt - Die Entdeckung des CODEX SINAITICUS im Katharinenkloster (Tischendorf and the oldest Bible in the world. The discovery of the Codex Sinaiticus in St. Catherine's Monastery. Biography cause of the anniversary of the 200th birthday of Tischendorf with many unpublished documents from his estate. These provide insight into previously unknown details of the discoveries and the reasons behind the donation of the manuscript. Recent research on Tischendorf and the Codex Sinaiticus and its significance for New Testament Textual Research). Muldenhammer: Jota. ISBN978-3-935707-83-1.
Soskice, Janet (1991). Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Found the Hidden Gospels. London: Vintage. ISBN978-1-4000-3474-1.
Sotiriou, G. and M. (1956-1958). Icones du Mont Sinaï. 2 vols (plates and texts). Collection de L'Institut francais d'Athènes 100 and 102. Athens.
Weitzmann, K. (1976). The Monastery of Saint Catherine at Mihnt Sinai: The Icons, Volume I: From the Sixth to the Tenth Century. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Weitzmann, K.; Galavaris, G. (1991). The Monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai. The Illuminated Greek Manuscripts, Volume I. From the Ninth to the Twelfth Century. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN0-691-03602-0.
Paul Géhin (2017). Les manuscrits syriaques de parchemin du Sinaï et leur membra disjecta. CSCO 665 / Subsidia 136. Louvain: Peeters. ISBN978-90-429-3501-3