Would you ever imagine that the Burning Bush of Moses’ time would still be around today? If you visit St. Catherine Monastery , formally known as the Sacred Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount Sinai, you will see what is believed to be the Burning Bush. When I visited St. Catherine’s Monastery at the base of Mt. Sinai on the Sinai Peninsula, I was surprised at what I saw. This bush was big, and those who provided our tour let us know there was no trunk. Interesting… The bush was held up by some kind of fencing, and we were actually able to walk under it. There is no other plant that resembles this one anywhere in the area.
Beside the Burning Bush, St. Catherine’s has a very rich history and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built between 548 and 565 AD the monastery is the oldest continuously operating monastery and can be traced back for over seventeen centuries. It has preserved its Greek and Roman heritage and continues to embrace that heritage today. The monastery is dedicated to Moses and Elias as they both came to Mt. Sinai and spoke with Christ there. There are also more than 170 Sinai saints honored by the church including the martyred St. Catherine.
St. Catherine of Alexandria was a Christian saint who was murdered by the pagan emperor Maxentius. She was a princess and scholar who became a Christian at the age of 14. At one point she went to Maxentius to rebuke him for his cruel ways. He brought pagan philosophers to dispute with her, but she won the debate. She converted hundreds of people to Christianity (including some of those philosophers), but she was eventually martyred at age 18. Maxentius tried to kill her using a spiked breaking wheel, but when that was unsuccessful, turned to a beheading. Her remains were miraculously placed at the monastery. Incidentally, Joan of Arc identified Catherine as one of the Saints who appeared to her and counselled her, and those in the Catholic faith revere her as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers.
In addition, St. Catherine’s has one of the earliest and still operational libraries in the world. The library preserves the second largest collection of the early codices and manuscripts worldwide. Only the Vatican Library holds more. Some of the books include the Syriac Sinaiticus and, until 1859, the Codex Sinaiticus (oldest almost completely preserved manuscript of the Bible).
If you are interested in art, St. Catherine’s is also replete with wonderful mosaics, an amazing collection of early icons, and wonderful church buildings. It retains over 120 icons created in the Crusader art style and is the largest collection in existence. It is amazing.