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.
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.