Saint Catherine MonasteryThe three-hour journey to St Catherine’s Monastery, the earliest surviving bastion of Christianity, will take you through breathtaking landscapes of arid rock formations, desolate expanses of desert and the occasional Bedouin camp. The monastery was founded by the Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora between 527-535 A.D. at the foot of Mount Sinai and Jebel Megafa, and has been a centre of worship and learning for over 1450 years. St Catherine was born Dorothea to a noble family in Alexandria in AD 294, and studied poetry, music, art, physics, mathematics, astronomy and philosophy at a pagan school, before converting to Christianity and taking the name of Catherine at baptism. She was tortured and beheaded for her faith by Emperor Maximus on 25 November AD 305 in Alexandria. Her body disappeared and, according to tradition, was transported by angels to the highest mountain peak of the Sinai Peninsula. Three centuries later, following a dream, some monks from the monastery found her relics, brought them down from the mountain, and placed them in a gilded sarcophagus, which now stands in the basilica choir. During the seventh century, the prophet Mohammad dictated a long document granting protection to the monastery and exempting it from taxes. A copy of it can be seen hanging in the Icon Gallery, next to Napoleon’s letter of protection written in 1798. A mosque built inside the Monastery’s walls in 1381 convinced the advancing Ottoman armies that the complex was partly Muslim, saving it from destruction. Since the eleventh century the Monastery of the Transfiguration has been known as St Catherine’s Monastery. Its library boasts a collection of 5000 books and over 3000 manuscripts (most of which are in Greek), including some of the most ancient and important in the world, and is considered second only to that of the Vatican. Throughout its history, the monastery has received gifts from popes, Christian princes and, above all, the Russian tsars, who considered themselves the natural successors of the Byzantine Emperors. Following a tour of the monastery you will visit Emperor Justinian’s sixth-century church and see the mosaic of the Transfiguration, the Chapel of the Burning Bush, the Icon Gallery, Jethro’s well and St Catherine’s shrine. After, you will have to return drive to Sharm el Sheikh.

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