We have chosen to go to one of the oldest continuously functioning Christian monasteries in the world, St Catherine’s Monastery of Mount Sinai.
It was a 2 hour drive through the remote Sinai Desert. The scenery was more or less the same mountains and desert but still beautiful. The only different part was when we came across a wide, free and wonderful deep valley beneath us. We went slowly higher and higher into the mountains until we reached the settlement of Saint Catherines.
We got dropped off 5-10 minutes walk away from the monastery. There were several groups of Indians and other nationalities there.
Before we begin our walk through the monastery I’ll tell you some facts about the monastery and Saint Catherine herself:
Saint Catherine’s Monastery is famous for where the Bible says God first spoke to Moses through the Burning Bush which is situated in the Monastery. It is also where Moses led the Israelites to Mount Moses (a.k.a Mount Sinai) and recieved the 10 commandments from God at the top of the mountain.
Mount Moses isn’t the tallest Mountain here, Mount Catherine has the honor of being the tallest mountain in Egypt, standing at 2500 meters.
Saint Catherine was born in Alexandria towards the end of the 3rd century. She was known for her beauty, her aristocratic birth and her wide learning. Rejecting all offers of marriage, she converted to Christianity. Saint Catherine resisted all the emperor’s promises, threatening, and torturing and at last was beheaded for her faith. The numerous pilgrims to the monastery from that time resulted in the gradual change of name from the Holy monastery of Sinai to Saint Catherines Monastery.
Once we had walked around part of the monastery we realized that there was only 4 parts of it that we could see since the rest was blocked off. But we did see a couple of tourists climbing over the barrier and into the rest of the monastery.
The first attraction is “The Well Of Moses” which is the most important of the wells in the monastery. It supplies the monks with water and is said that it will never dry up. It is also important as this is where Moses met his future wife Zipporah.
The second one is ” The Church Of Transfiguration” which was my favourite. We were not allowed to take any pictures so I can only try and describe it in words. It was only a small church but it was one of the most interesting churches I’ve been in (I’ve been in lots too). There were silver lamps and giant chandeliers hanging from the ceiling with different colours such as red and blue inside them. You weren’t allowed to walk into the main part but you didn’t need to as you already sensed the purity of the church. It also had two aisles at each side with portraits of Saint Cathrine and Christ. The ceiling fitted in with the room as it was multicoloured. We bought a book here about the monastery and it had a picture of the church inside so you can see it-. Picture To Follow
The third was one of the most common attractions here, ” The Chapel Of The Burning Bush and The Burning Bush”. The Chapel is “The Holy Heart Of The Monastery” and has a remarkable religious worth. The Burning Bush is a rare species of the rose family called Rubus Sanctus. But apparently is wide spread on the Sinai peninsula and lives for a very long time. The Bush has grown to a very large size as you can see.-
The final and fourth thing we saw and could see is the museum or the Gallery of Saint Catherines Monastery. This gallery holds over 2,000 items (but not all of them are open to the public). Again we weren’t allowed to take pictures so you will have to imagine what I’ll be describing. There were many paintings of different Saints and lots of Mother Mary and Jesus. Some of Saint Catherine and some of Moses. The Ultimate Travellers’ (if you prefer, TUT) favourite painting was called The Ladder Of Divine Ascent to heaven on a ladder but some monks get pulled off by Black Demons with bows and arrows and a golden background. I didn’t really have a favourite, I thought every one of them had a uniqueness about them.
The gallery also had a wide collection of manuscripts written in Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, Syriac, Georgian, Coptic, Polish and Slavic. The library has one of the rarest collections of ancient manuscripts in the world, second only to the Vatican.
Since what we’ve just seen only took 30 minutes and the monastery closed at 12 pm and it was only about 10am we decided to go part of the way up Mount Moses by camel. Since it was quite expensive to get 3 camels we only got one and took it in turns (mum didn’t because of what happened on the last camel ride were she got a sore at the bottom of her back, squashed on with Jed).
The guide took us up to a certain point where we could see the top of Mount Moses and behind this the peak of Mount Catherine. He nicknamed his camel Michael Jackson (don’t ask) and he was a lovely but weird camel at the same time. He was weird because almost every camel eats bananas and TUT offered the guide a banana for his camel and he said that it dosn’t eat them but has no idea why. He was right,he offered the camel one but it would NOT eat it.
It was very peaceful resting on a great rock looking up at Mount Moses and imagining days long ago. The landscape is truly stunning here.
So all in all it wasn’t a bad day. But the monastery was a bit disappointing as we didn’t get to see all of it.
Now this is where the tragic accident of the day happens and where TUT is a hero.
We were on our way back to Dahab when we had to stop because we were told to wait and travel in a police convoy. We met some Americans who were behind us so we just talked to them for the whole hour that we were waiting.
When we finally got on the move again after about 10 minutes we pulled in again.
There had been a car crash. I think it had only just happened and was possibly the front of our convoy. It was one of the tourists vans and a normal car. There were people screaming and some with blood pouring down their faces. Out of the window we saw several cars and a big recovery vehicle stop, the occupants got out wearing military uniforms.
Our driver told us to wait and went off to help. After several minutes we all got out of the car to see what had happened but kept a safe distance away. TUT went to help. Good job he was a retired firefighter. He looked around then went to the normal car where the driver was trapped in the wreckage. The people in uniform were called International Reserves and Observers, they were all quite young Americans.
As soon as he said he used to be in the fire department they all stepped back and listened to him. He told them to get a vehicle jack to free the mans foot, then he told them to recline his seat and TUT pulled him free, the man was screaming ‘Allah, Allah’ as they carried him to a stretcher.
The ambulances had arrived and all the tourists who were in the car crash jumped in with the injured and off they went.
It’s not something you want to experience,seeing peope with blood over them and one women was being held by two other people since her leg was injured and we thought one person was dead but I don’t think he was. TUT came back with blood all over his shirt and trousers. Once our driver came back we went home.
You could call it good, exciting, interesting or terrifying, but I will never forget that day.