St Catherine Retreat

Retreat at St Catherine’s Monastery

15th – 22nd April 2018

Inspired by visiting St Catherine’s Monastery with Wind Sand & Stars at the end of a week in the Sinai Desert in 2014, Liz Edmunds returned in February 2017 for a week of retreat and exploration with 25 people. It was a profound experience for all of them and will now hopefully become an annual retreat destination.

This journey is co-ordinated by Liz Edmunds, with guest speaker and retreat leader Father Laurence Freeman OSB. Father Laurence is leader of the World Community for Christian Meditation, a Catholic priest and a Benedictine monk. He will guide us and lead group meditations each day.

The Retreat is open to all but may appeal to those with an interest in meditation, in study and in Art.

Journey overview

Saint Catherine’s Monastery or the Sacred Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount Sinai lies at the foot of Mount Sinai where the Bible says that Moses received the Ten Commandments. The monastery is built on the site where it is said that Moses saw the Burning Bush. A Chapel on the site of the Burning Bush was built by order of Helena, mother of Constantine I. A fortified Greek Orthodox Monastery was built to protect the Chapel at the order of the Emperor Justinian (527-568). It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the oldest working Christian monasteries in the world, it has the world’s oldest continually operating library housing a vast and unique collection of early codices, manuscripts and books in the world, only outnumbered by the Vatican Library. It contains Greek, Arabic, Armenian, Coptic, Hebrew, Georgian and Aramaic texts and amongst its treasures was the home of the Codex Siniaticus until it was brought to the West. The library has been extensively restored and will be reopened in its new condition later this year and with its purpose-built reading room will be available for specialist study under the direction of Father Justin, the librarian. Many of these marvellous works are now being made available on line.

The Monastery houses irreplaceable works of art: mosaics and the best and largest collection of icons in the world dating from as early as the 6th Century. There are also marvellous liturgical objects, chalices and reliquaries of note. The oldest icon on an Old Testament theme is preserved there, as well as the oldest known surviving example of the icon of Christ Pantocrator (left). A project to catalogue the collections has been ongoing since the 1960s.

For Liz Edmunds and her party in 2017, the wonders of the Monastery were a marvel but the treasure that had the most profound and lasting effect was the atmosphere of a holy place where there has been uninterrupted worship for so long, where Moses and Elijah trod and which pre-existed even those great souls. This is where the Desert Fathers went to find God in the stillness and silence and where the Monastic life still led there shares the same search for God. It is a truly special place for anyone seeking to touch that same space.

Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in South Sinai

We are met on arrival at Sharm el Sheikh International Airport by our Wind Sand & Stars representatives and transfer to our hotel for the night.
Overnight 4* hotel, Sharm el Sheikh

Day 2: Journey to St Catherine’s Monastery

After breakfast we travel through the beautiful eastern sandstone desert towards St Catherine’s Monastery, stopping on the way to view rock inscriptions carved by early pilgrims as they journeyed from Jerusalem to St Catherine. We can take in the stunning view of the nearby oasis of Ayun Khudra as we enjoy sweet Bedouin tea, before we continue to the spectacular granite mountains where the Monastery lies at the foot of Mount Sinai, arriving in time for lunch. Built in the 6th century by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, its towering outer walls, built to protect the monks from marauding tribes, still stand. During the afternoon we will have time for introductions and orientation, with our first group meditation in the evening.

Days 3 – 7: Retreat at St Catherine’s Monastery *

We will spend the next five days based at the Monastery. The Monastery is open to visitors each morning from 9am-12pm, while the afternoons will offer us time for retreat and reflection. A flexible daily programme will begin with a morning meditation together, followed by time alone for retreat and reflection or study. There will be optional excursions to the local village of St Catherine and walks to some nearby hermitages and viewpoints, or simply time to absorb the special atmosphere. We gather together again in the evening for review and group meditation led by Father Laurence.

Inside the monastery we can visit the magnificent Basilica and also spend time viewing the rare collections of icons and early manuscripts in the museum. We may be invited to attend afternoon Vespers. There will be an optional ascent of Mount Sinai on one day, a steady uphill walk for 2-3 hours along the traditional camel path (with camels available for hire), then up steep Byzantine steps carved into the rocks to the summit. Below lies the Garden of Elijah, where it was told that Elijah hid from God on the mountain.
O/n each night St Catherine’s Monastery guesthouse

*All activities are optional and the final programme will depend on the group, local conditions and to allow for Monastery opening times.

Day 8: Depart

We return to Sharm el Sheikh and our flight home.

Please note all desert itineraries are subject to change.

Costs

Land arrangements £950

Flight £400 – £600 approximately (depending upon time of booking)

Minimum number 10

 Cost Includes

  • All local transport and accommodation
  • Full board at the Monastery Guesthouse and B&B at 4* hotel in Sharm el Sheikh
  • Qualified Wind Sand & Stars group leader
  • English-speaking Egyptian guide
  • St Katherine’s National Park fee and Museum entrance fee
  • Comprehensive travel insurance

Cost Excludes

  • Egyptian Visa (US$25 if needed, see separate note)
  • Gratuities £50 (invoiced)
  • Single Supplement £150 per person (invoiced)
  • Hire of camel up Mt Sinai (approximately £10, optional)
  • Soft drinks and any other personal expenses
  • Additional transport and accommodation for separate arrival or onward travel outside the main itinerary

Visa

Please note a visa is NOT required for this itinerary, unless you are flying via Cairo or travelling elsewhere in Egypt independently, or you do not hold a British or EU passport. Please refer to the Egyptian Consulate www.egyptianconsulate.co.uk/Visas.php or call the Wind Sand & Stars office for guidance.

ATOL protection

The air holidays and flights in this brochure are ATOL Protected by the Civil Aviation Authority. Our ATOL number is 6382. For further information, visit the ATOL website at www.atol.org.uk.

Get in touch

“So many thoughts about our wonderful trip to St Catherine; the fantastic warmth of welcome from the Egyptians, Fathers Justin and Nilus, and the unique history which we felt privileged to be given access to. In my book, how could one not enjoy and be inspired!”

Julia Palmer, St Catherine Retreat, February 2017

“A great experience altogether and I am grateful to all the organisers, to the guides and drivers, to all the staff at guesthouse and hotels, to the Bedouin we visited; all contributed to a perfect trip. “

Verena Watson, Tailor Made Desert Journey, April 2016

“Huge thanks to all at Wind, Sand & Stars for an amazing trip. John’s passion for Ethiopia fires his erudition and he gave us more insights into the country, past and present, than we could ever have gained from local guides.”

Christine Dunmow, Exploring Ethiopia’s Orthodox History with John Binns 2016

“I am hugely impressed with Wind Sand & Stars’ organisation and their relationship with the Bedouin family who looked after us. These local contacts made the experience especially rich.”

Richard Ames-Lewis, Adventure into Silence, October 2014

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