Icons at St Catherine

Icons at St Catherine 2022 dates now live!

Join us from 1st – 8th April 2022 (revised dates)

Led by Aidan Hart and Liz Edmunds

There are some sites on earth that the Celts have called ‘thin places’, where heaven and earth seem to touch. St Catherine’s Monastery is one of them. It is a place where countless people such as Moses and St John of the Ladder have encountered God.

The monastery’s remarkable icons are also a place of encounter between heaven and earth, from its famous 6th century mosaic of Christ’s transfiguration in the apse to its smallest illuminated manuscript. But to new eyes the style of these Orthodox images can at first seem strange, and so it is invaluable having an expert and practicing iconographer such as Aidan to help us unearth their secrets and put them in the context of the church’s life of mystical prayer and communal worship.

This week of retreat & exploration is open to all and may appeal to those with an interest in icons and how to read them and to spend time contemplating their hidden depths. There will be regular morning and evening meditation for those who wish and a chance attend some services in the Church.

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 Moses received the Ten Commandments. The monastery is built 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).

One of the oldest working Christian monasteries in the world, it is also renowned for its unique collection of icons, most notably those painted in the ancient encaustic technique from the 6th and 7th centuries, and from the Komnenian period (1081-1185). St Catherine’s is unique in preserving so many icons from before the iconoclastic period. These survived because Sinai was by that time under the rule of the Moslems and thus out of reach of the Iconoclast Emperors. The dry climate helped and the fact that they remained part of the monks’ daily life of prayer. Included in their collection is the oldest panel icon of Christ (see illustration).

The monastery library houses a vast and unique collection of early codices, manuscripts and books that is outnumbered only by the Vatican Library. Amongst its treasures was the Codex Siniaticus until it was brought to the West, and many remarkable Byzantine illuminated manuscripts, such as the gloriously illustrated Gospel Book made 1000 AD, manuscript Sinai gr. 204 (see illustration). The library has been extensively restored and a reading room is available for specialist study.

Guest speakers

This will be a unique opportunity to explore the world of Orthodoxy, its iconography and prayer cycles with the renowned icon painter, Aidan Hart who was a novice monk in the Greek Orthodox tradition for twelve years, six of them as a hermit. He is delighted to be making this pilgrimage to St Catherine’s which he says has long been the desire of his heart. A professional icon and fresco painter, carver and mosaicist for over thirty years, he is the director and teacher of the Icon Painting Certificate for The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts. He has published two books and numerous articles on iconography and lectured widely. In 2018 he presented ‘The Creation of an Icon’for BBC Radio 4.

Inspired by visiting St Catherine’s Monastery with Wind Sand & Stars in 2014, Liz Edmunds has returned several times, drawn by the spiritual atmosphere maintained through the continuous prayer of monks over the centuries. A long time meditator and enthusiast for meditation as well as somebody who has been entranced by the atmosphere of St Catherine’s Monastery, Liz has coordinated three retreats focussed on meditation. She is particularly delighted that Aidan Hart is coming because of his experience of the spiritual nature of Orthodoxy and of the stillness which can be found through contemplation and meditation. Liz will lead the twice daily meditation which she hopes will compliment times of study and visits to the icons, the Church and the library to which we have been given generous access. Anyone with particular academic interests in the library can request specific manuscripts to study. It is our hope that Father Justin, the Librarian will be there.


Day 1

We fly from London Heathrow to Sharm El-Sheikh, arriving in the evening and staying overnight in a nearby hotel. If flight times allow we may be able to travel to St Catherine’s Monastery on this day
Overnight 4* hotel, Sharm El-Sheikh


Day 2: Journey to St Catherine’s Monastery

From Sharm el Sheikh we travel through the 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 Bedouin tea, before we continue into the mountainous interior where the Monastery lies at the foot of Mount Sinai. 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 day we will have time for introductions and orientation before our first talk by Aidan in the evening.

O/n St Catherine’s Monastery Guesthouse. Please note accommodation is basic and rooms are generally shared, though a few single rooms may be possible depending on availability and we always try to secure them when requested. A single supplement is payable.

Days 3 – 7: At St Catherine’s Monastery

We will spend the next five days based at the Monastery.  The Monastery is open to visitors each morning, except Friday, 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. In the mornings inside the monastery we can visit the magnificent Basilica, with its famous 6thcentury mosaic in the apse, and spend time with the rare collections of icons and early manuscripts in the museum. Icons require time and understanding for their inner meaning to unfold, and while with the collections Aidan will be available to talk with us if we wish about their meaning and use. 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 may be invited to attend afternoon Vespers. We gather together again in the evenings for review and a talk and discussion on the monastery’s iconography and the monastic life, led by Aidan. 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 for part of the ascent), then up steep Byzantine steps carved into the rocks to the summit (the camels cannot continue on this section).

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

O/n St Catherine’s Monastery Guesthouse. 


Day 8: Depart

We return to Sharm el Sheikh and our flight home.


Day 9: Optional extra day in Cairo

If desired, we can organise an onward flight to Cairo for an all-inclusive day of sightseeing with our experienced guides, to include the Pyramids and Sphinx and the Egyptian Museum.

O/n 4* hotel in Cairo


Day 10: Depart (extension only)

Morning flight from Cairo to London Heathrow.


Please note all itineraries are subject to change and may depend upon final flight times and availability


Land arrangements from £1,450

Flight £550 – £650 approx. (depending upon time of booking)

Minimum number 10

 Land Arrangement Cost Includes;

  • All local transport and accommodation
  • Full board at the Monastery Guesthouse and B&B at 5* hotel in Sharm El-Sheikh
  • Qualified Wind Sand & Stars group Leader in Sinai
  • English-speaking Egyptian guide
  • St Katherine Protectorate National Park fee and Museum entrance fee
  • Comprehensive travel insurance

Cost Excludes;

  • Flights
  • Egyptian Visa (US$25)
  • Gratuities £60 (invoiced)
  • Single Supplement per person £240
  • Hire of camel up Mt Sinai (approx. £20, optional)
  • Soft drinks, alcohol and any other personal expenses
  • Optional extension day/night to Cairo (approx. £300pp)
  • Additional insurance premium for clients 65 years or over
  • Additional transport and accommodation for separate arrival or onward travel outside the main itinerary


UK , EU and USA passport holders travelling direct to Sharm El-Sheikh, for a maximum of 15 DAYS, do not require a visa prior to travelling as a free entry permission stamp will be granted upon arrival. If travelling via Cairo a visa MUST be obtained on arrival in Cairo Airport. If you do not hold a British, EU or US passport please refer to the Egyptian Consulate www.egyptianconsulate.co.uk/Visas.php 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

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    Julia Palmer, St Catherine Retreat, February 2017

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