Monastery of St. Catherine

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  • The Monastery of St. Catherine is a Greek Orthodox monastery on the Sinai Peninsula at the foot of Mt. Sinai. It is an autonomous region in the Republic of Egypt in the South Sinai Governate. Its territory is comprised of the monastery, the town of Saint Katrine, Mt. Sinai and Mt. Catherine.
  • Terminology
    • Sacred Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount Sinai is the official name of the autonomous region.
    • Monastery of St. Catherine is the short name of the autonomous region.
    • Saint Katrine is the name of the town.

Sacred Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount Sinai
Ιερά Μονή του Θεοβαδίστου Όρους Σινά
Monastery of St. Catherine
state flag
Motto אדמה קדוש הוא
ὁ τόπος γῆ ἁγία ἐστίν
هذا هو الأرض المقدسة
This Is Sacred Ground
Town St. Katrine
Government Ecclesiocracy  ?
Head of State & Government His Beatitude Damianos
Mayor Alexandra Panousis
Demonym Κατρινικός
Foundation 565
Protection of Muhammad c.622
Autonomy 1665
Area 63 km²
24 mi²
Population 3,543 (2010)
Monks (52) Greek 85% (44)
Bulgarian 10% (5)
Serbian 5% (3)
Citizens (3,491) Bedouin (2932) 84%
Egyptian (384) 11%
Greek (175) 5%
Monastery Greek
Townsfolk Arabic
Monastery Greek Orthodoxy
Townsfolk Sunni Islam 86%
Greek Orthodoxy 14%
Currency 1 pound = 96 piastres = 3,840 pare
International License Plate Code MSC
Time zone UTC +2
DST is not observed.
Telephone Code 5031



  • Text in bold indicates PoD.
  • 330 - The empress, St. Helena, builds a church on the site where Moses is supposed to have seen the burning bush, dedicated to the Mother of God. Included was a tower to house the monks.
  • mid-4th century - The Diocese of Pharan is established for the Sinai Peninsula.
  • 380s - The pilgrim Egeria describes the monastic life on Mt. Sinai.
  • 530 - Construction of the monastery, including its fortifications, dedicated to the Transfiguration, is begun by the order of Emperor Justinian I, enclosing the Chapel of the Burning Bush ("Saint Helen's Chapel"). Macedonians are brought in to do the constructing. They remain and become the Gabalia (Jebeliya) tribe of Bedouins.
  • 565 - Justinian grants authority, autonomy and independence to the abbot. The monks adopt the Rule of St. Basil.
  • c.622 - Muhammad sends a charter to the monastery granting the monks protection and other privileges.
  • 681 - The bishop of Pharan is deposed for heresy and the see is transfered to the monastery. The abbot becomes the archbishop of Sinai and Raithu (the ancient name of El Tor).
  • 7th century - The isolated hermits on the mountain are required to become monks in the monastery.
  • 800 - Monks find the relics of St. Catherine and the monastery is renamed in her honor.
  • 11th century - The Fatimid Berber dynasty converts a chapel into a mosque used today by the local Bedouin people.
  • 1095-1099 - As a result of the First Crusade, Christian pilgrims were able to visit the monastery in increasing numbers.
  • 1203 - Simeon IV (1203-1214) is named the first archbishop by Pope Innocent III (1160-1216).
  • 1527 - Under the first survey by the Ottoman Empire, the autonomy of the monastery is acknowledged.
  • 1665 - Nectarius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, grants autonomy to the monastery.
  • 1938 - At the request of the abbot and the monks, the Patriarch of Jerusalem relieves the abbot of his role as archbishop of Sinai and Raithu. The abbot remains a personal archbishop with his jurisdiction limited to the monastery and Saint Katrine.
  • 1950 - The now fully independent Republic of Egypt acknowledges the autonomy of the Monastery of St. Catherine and includes the whole of Mt. Sinai and Mt. Catherine in the autonomous region.
  • 1983-1985 - A paved road is constructed from El Tor to Saint Katrine.
  • 1999 - The rail line from El Tor to Saint Katrine is constructed.
  • 2011 - On September 28, the pipeline is completed, bringing water from the Nile River to the monastery and Saint Katrine.



  • Sovereignty over the Monastery of Saint Catherine is vested in the duly electeded abbot. He is the Head of State and the Head of Government.
  • As head of state and government, the Abbot possesses the executive power and must answer to the Monastic Synod who possess the legislative power.
  • The Abbot is the Chairman of the Monastic Synod.
  • As an archbishop the Abbot governs as an autocrat to whom the Holy Synod act merely as advisors.
  • The Abbot is elected by the monks to govern for life or until he chooses to retire.
  • Upon his election he is ordained an archbishop by the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Out of respect for the monastic vocation, the Patriarch travels to the monastery for the ordination.
  • The Abbot meets once a week with the mayor of St. Katrine to discuss the affairs of the town.
  • The abbot travels on a diplomatic passport.

List of Abbots

  • Eugenios (1567–1583)
  • Anastasios (1583–1592)
  • Laurentios (1592–1617)
  • Ioasaf (1617–1661)
  • Nektarios II (1661)
  • Ananias (1661–1671)
  • Ioannikios I (1671–1702)
  • Kosmas (22 Apr 1703 – 13 Feb 1706)
  • Athanasios IV (1708–1720)
  • Ioannikios II (1721–1728)
  • Nikiforos (1728–1747)
  • Konstantios I (1748–1759)
  • Kyrillos II (28 Oct 1759 – Jan/Feb 1790)
  • Dorotheos II (1794–1797)
  • Konstantios II (1804 – 9 Jul 1859)
  • Kyrillos III (7 Dec 1859 – 5 Sep 1867))
  • Kallistratos (1867–1884)
  • Porphyrios I (21 Aug 1885 – 7 May 1904)
  • Porphyrios II (7 May 1904 – Jul 1926)
  • Porphyrios III (29 Jul 1926 – 24 Nov 1968)
  • Grigorios II (4 Jan 1969 – 11 Sep 1973)
  • Damianos I (10 Dec 1973 – 14 Oct 2018)
  • Christophoros (14 Oct 2018 - present)

Town council

  • The Town Council was established by Abbot Porphirios III in 1952.
  • The town council (δημοτικό συμβούλιο, majlis) consists of a mayor (δήμαρχος, eumda) and six councillors who are directly elected by universal suffrage in municipal elections every four years. The town council, which serves as the legislative and executive body of the town, is responsible for street maintenance and lighting, drainage, refuse collection, the cemetery, public health and safety, the infrastructure, and the parks and playgrounds.
  • In the 2016 election a woman, Alexandra Panousis, was elected mayor for the first time, and only the second time that a Greek has been elected.
  • There are no limits to how many times a candidate may run for re-election.
  • The town council works in conjunction with a salaried town manager who manages the day-to-day business of the town government.
  • The town council authorizes the hiring of other staff to run the operations of government, including law enforcement officers, utility workers, park and recreation employees, and town managers. This office also staffs the port of entry at the train station. These employees serve at the pleasure of the council.
  • The town council can enact ordinances which are subject to the approval of the Abbot.

Town manager

  • The town manager (ληξίαρχος δημαρχείου, katib almadina) is responsible for issuing licenses, maintaining financial records, serving as registrar of vital statistics, administering democratic processes such as elections, and for assuring the transparency of the town council's conduct of business.
  • He or she has access to city records and takes the minutes at the meetings of the town council.


National symbols

  • The Monastery Flag:
    • The flag is the flag of the Republic of Egypt minus the charges. In place of the eagle displayed in the canton is a Greek cross. In place of the eagle displayed in the center is a representation of the burning bush. The use of the three stripes of the flag of the Republic of Egypt symbolizes that the Monastery of St. Catherine is a part of the republic. The Burning Bush symbolizes the reason that the monastery exists and the Greek cross that the monastery is a part of the Greek Orthodox community.
  • The Monastery Emblem:
    • The coat of arms is the flag in the form of a shield with Moses and St. Catherine as supporters, standing on a mountain top.
    • Blazon:
Arms: Per fess dark green (Vert) and light green, on a fess Or, a bush inflamed Proper; in chief a Greek cross Or.
Crest: In front of a sword point downwards Proper pommel and hilt Or, and a crozier of the last in saltire a kalimavkion with veil Sable.
Supporters: Dexter, Moses Proper, holding in his dexter arm the Tablets of the Law Azure, inscribed with the numbers 1-10 in Hebrew letters from sinister to dexter Or; sinister, St. Catherine, resting her sinister hand on a Catherine wheel Or, and holding in her dexter hand a sword palewise Proper pommel and hilt Or, dropping blood Proper, both vested White.
Compartment: A rocky mount proper.

Public Holidays

  • Because the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, the months advance 11 days each year.
  • When a Christian feast and an Islamic feast fall on the same day, both are celebrated, but the following day, unless it is a Sunday, is also a holiday.
Date Name Notes
January 1 New Year's Day Beginning of the civil year.
January 7 Christmas Day The observance of the birthday of Jesus Christ.
February 15 Foundation Day Commemorates the founding of the monastery by Justinian I in 530.
April 7 The Annunciation At least one Marian feast; so that each faith has five holidays.
1 Ramadan (5/16/18) Beginning of Ramadan Marks the beginning of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting.
1 Shawal (6/15/18) Eid al-Fitr Marks the end of Ramadan.
July 22 Feast of St. Catherine Commemorates the finding of the saint's body in 800.
August 19 Feast of the Transfiguration The patronal feast of the monastery.
10-13 Dulhija (8/21/18) Eid al-Adha Honors the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son as an act of submission to God's command. Only the 13th is a legal holiday.
1st Monday in September Election Day Every four years in the even-numbered years.
1 Muharam (9/12/18) Islamic New Year Beginning of the Islamic year.
October 15 Feast of the Burning Bush (γιορτή του καψίματος καύσης) Commemorates Moses' encounter with the Burning Bush and the giving of the Ten Commandments.
17 Rabalawal (11/21/18) Mawlid The observance of the birthday of Muhammad.



  • Traffic moves to the right.
  • In 1955 the dirt road from El Tor to Saint Katrine was paved with asphalt. Since this would enhance the tourist industry, the paving was financed by the Republic of Egypt.
  • The streets in Saint Katrine and the road to the monastery are paved with asphalt.
  • The majority of the residents do not own a vehicle. They walk or ride bicycles to run their errands. There is only one gas station in Saint Katrine.
  • Camels have the right of way.


  • In 1999 the rail line from El Tor to Saint Katrine was completed, again financed by the Republic of Egypt.
  • Two trolleys are employed, each consisting of two double-ended cars. Bow collectors are used to transfer current from the overhead lines to the trolley.
  • The tracks are standard gauge. The rail line is 170 km. (105.6 mi.) long. The trolleys never exceed 100 kph (60 mph.), so that the trip takes about two hours.
  • There is a single track, but half way between the stations two tracks are used so that the trolleys can pass each other.
  • A trolley leaves each station every two hours on the hour, beginning at 7:00 a.m., during daylight hours, passing each other at the halfway point.

Air travel

  • Air travel is limited to medical evacuation.
  • There is a heliport at the hospital for transporting patients to Suez or Cairo for more intensive care. The helicopter is also used to rescue tourists on the mountains.


  • The MSC is on the South Sudan grid.
  • A field of solar panels has been set up to supplement the governate's grid.


  • There is a 40-bed (all private rooms) hospital with an emergency room, a laboratory, an x-ray department, and two surgical suites. There is a clinic for outpatient care. The hospital provides an ambulance service to the citizens of the MSC. It also provides in-home midwifery service.
  • Severe medical and surgical cases are transferred by helicopter to hospitals in Suez or Cairo.
  • Before entering the first grade all children are required to be immunized for poliomyelitis, tuberculosis, diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, German measles (Rubella) and chicken pox.
  • The entrance to the monastery and all public buildings are handicap accessible.

Postal Service

  • There is only one post office. Mail carriers deliver the mail daily to the homes of the residents. Daily mail is also delivered to the monastery. Mail trucks receive the mail from and deliver it to El Tor.
  • The MSC issues its own stamps which must be used to send mail from the local post office. There is not a lot of use of these stamps for postal purposes, but the hobby of philately is a source of revenue for the MSC. The stamps have featured the local wildlife and the works of art in the possession of the monastery.


  • There are two elementary schools and a high school.
  • Education in Islam is compulsory for the Muslim students. Christian students are exempt from this, but must attend the Christian education classes provided by the monks.
  • For higher education the students attend universities in the Republic of Egypt.
  • Teachers are accredited by the Department of Education of the Republic of Egypt.

Public welfare

  • There are a police station and a fire brigade.
  • The installation of fire hydrants was completed in 1965, including several within the monastery grounds. A fire sprinkler system was also installed within the monastery.



  • The MSC does not issue its own currency, but uses that of the Republic of Egypt.


  • Tourism is the single largest source of income for the Monastery of St. Catherine.
  • Because of the relatively warm temperature throughout the year and the extremely low monthly precipitation there is no specific tourist season.
  • There are three categories of visitors to the Monastery of St. Catherine.
    • Scholars are those who have come to study the art work and the scrolls in the possession of the monastery. These are given accomodations in the monastery's guest house.
    • Pilgrims are those who have come for spiritual reasons to visit and to pray at the holy sites of the Burning Bush, the relics of St. Catherine, and the Chapel of the Rock on the summit of Mt. Sinai. These can find accomodations at the various hostels and inns in Saint Katrine.
    • Tourists are those who have come just to see the sights. These, too, can find accomodations at the various hostels and inns in Saint Katrine.
  • Women may be admitted to the monastery chapels and library, but are excluded from the monks' living areas.
  • There are tours of the art work in the monastery. There is no fee, but donations are welcomed.
  • Mt. Sinai, 2,285 meters (7,497 ft.) high, is sacred and therefore not available for any activity other than climbing to the summit to worship. There is a Christian chapel at the summit built over the rock from which it is believed that Moses' Tablets of the Law were quarried. There are two ascents to the summit. The longer and shallower route takes about 2.5 hours on foot, though camels (with or without a howdah) or donkeys may be used. The steeper, more direct route is up the 3,750 "steps of penitence" in the ravine behind the monastery. There is also a mosque at the summit for pilgrims of the Muslim faith. Also at the summit is Moses' cave, where Moses was said to have waited to receive the Ten Commandments.
  • Mt. Catherine, at 2,629 meters (8,625 ft) the highest mountain in Egypt, is open for more rugged activities such as mountain climbing. A trek to the summit makes a circle with sleeping at the top. There is a small orthodox chapel at the top. The monks constructed a small stone hut where trekkers and pilgrims can stay for overnight in the harshly cold weather. There is usually a candle and matches in case one forgets, but climbers can also leave some if they have too many. There is also a broom and rubbish bins, and people are expected to clean up after themselves. From the peak there are spectacular views over Mount Sinai, and on a clear day one can see as far as the Red Sea.
  • From Saint Katrine the visitor may visit the well-preserved ruins of turquoise, gold and copper mines of the Egyptian Empire; temples from the 12th Dynasty, dedicated to Hathor, goddess of love, music and beauty; and from the New Kingdom dedicated to Sopdu, the god of the Eastern Desert.
  • Although the road to El Tor is now paved, vehicular travel is limited to citizens of Egypt and the MSC and to cargo vehicles. Tourists must arrive via the train, so that they may pass through the port of entry at the train station.
  • Visitors to the MSC must have an entry visa. A visa is issued to those who are staying for the day or to those who can give proof of accomodations in one of the several inns or hostels. This is to lessen the disturbance to the town and the sacred places. These visas may be obtained at any consulate of the Republic of Egypt.
  • Three types of visas are issued:
  1. Scholar visas are issued to those who come to study at the monastery. When applying for a visa, they must present proof of accomodations at the monastery.
  2. Overnight visas are issued to those who come to the MSC as pilgrims or tourists. When applying for a visa, they must present proof of accomodations at one of the inns or hostels.
  3. Daily visas are issued to those who come just for the day. This visa requires that the holder depart, at the latest, on the last train to leave the MSC. Daily visas are not available to those who wish to climb Mt. Sinai or Mt. Saint Catherine.
  • Daily tourists may visit the monastery grounds, the church and the mosque, but may not enter the the monastery itself. The library and the museum may be visited only as part of a tour. Tours are conductued between 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. on most days. The monastery is closed on Sundays, Fridays, and the major feast days. The chapel is always open for citizens and visitors to attend the liturgies.
  • Major Feast Days Paschal Cycle:
  1. Palm Sunday.
  2. Easter Sunday.
  3. Ascension Thursday.
  4. Pentecost Sunday.
  • Major Feast Days Fixed Cycle:
  1. Nativity of the Theotokos - September 21
  2. Elevation of the Holy Cross - September 27
  3. Presentation of the Theotokos - December 4
  4. Nativity of the Lord - January 7
  5. The Theophany of the Lord - January 19
  6. The Presentation of the Lord - February 15
  7. The Annunciation - April 7
  8. The Feast of Saint Catherine - July 22
  9. The Transfiguration - August 19
  10. The Dormition of the Theotokos - August 28
  • Those climbing either of the mountains may purchase prepared meals (dinner and breakfast) at their inn or from local restaurants. Hostels do not serve food.
  • Alcohol is not served in the inns and restaurants and may not be brought into the MSC. Obviously, wine used by the monks for their liturgies is an exception. They abstain, however, from wine at other times.


  • The Jebeliya Bedouins have always practiced agriculture and are expert gardeners and craftsmen which is very evident in the wadis around Saint Katrine. They have been building gardens, houses, store rooms, water dams and other structures in the mountains for centuries.
  • Because of the moderate climate a variety of plants and crops are grown: almonds, apples, pears, apricots, peaches, figs, dates and grapes. Olives are very important. There is not a huge harvest, but there is enough to satisfy local needs with enough of a surplus to ship to the markets in El Tor.
  • Vegetable gardens are built in the wadi floors in the main water course and are encircled by massive stone walls. These walls have to withstand the regular flash floods, retain the soil and protect the garden from animals. Water wells are either built in the garden or a number of gardens have one but these wells freeze in winter and sometimes in spring and autumn. The new pipe line has allowed the harvest of vegetable crops to be increased.


  • There is a modest wine industry. Grapes of the Muscat of Alexandria variety are grown, from which is made a white table wine known as Moscato di Santa Catarina (μασκάτ της Αγίας Αικατερίνης).


  • The major imports are petroleum products, flour, coffee, tea, and sugar.


  • St. Katrine has the coldest nights of any city in Egypt. Its humidity is very low. The highest mountains ranges in Egypt surround the town with many smaller valleys leading from the basin to the mountains in all directions. It sits at an elevation of 1586 m. (5203'). The high altitude of the town and the high ranges of mountains which embrace it provide a pleasant climate, with refreshing mild summer nights and an excellent spring. Winter days are relatively cool for the region and the nights can get very cold on rare occasions, making it sometimes necessary to heat homes and public places. Infrequent snowfalls take place during the winter months of December, January and February. However, snow has also occurred in late autumn and early spring.
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