It was a Sunday morning and we were standing outside the monastery feeling disappointed. The monastery was closed. Not to give up so easily, our guide knocked on a small side door. An old monk appeared at the door and looked annoyed at being disturbed. I guess he did not like being bothered on Sunday, a day of prayer. The monk seemed to have a heated argument with our guide who was calmly talking to him.
A few minutes ago we had arrived at the Sinai mountain region. Mount Sinai is a holy mountain for the Christians. The prophet Moses received the Ten Commandments from God on his way to the Promised Land.
The desert region of Sinai is vast, dry and arid. The landscape has hues of browns and beige. Very little vegetation is found here.
The local Bedouin tribes have made this their home since centuries and have watched the sands of time sculpt and change this desert land.
At the foot of Mount Sinai is St. Catherine’s monastery. Built between 548 and 565, the monastery is one of the oldest working Christian monasteries in the world.
Catherine of Alexandria was a Christian martyr whose relics were buried in the monastery. and so the monastery is named after her.
Two holy sites are found inside the monastery, Jethro’s Well and the Burning Bush. More about them to come later.
The monastery also houses some irreplaceable artwork such as mosaics, paintings, icons and holy objects and ancient manuscripts.
Seeing the monk fuming, our hopes were failing, when suddenly our guide gave us the sign to enter. Surprise was written all over our faces as the unexpected had happened 🙂
The side door led to an open passage way. Led by our guide we walked in silence and awe observing our surroundings.
Our first stop was Jethro’s Well.
The well is preserved in an encased glass. The water from the well is still a main source and used by the monks. We stood briefly, thinking about the history of this well.
The well was the only source of water in the village. Jethro was a fierce man who had seven beautiful daughters. One evening they were at the well to draw water for their flocks when the local shepherds blocked their way. Moses had escaped from Egypt after killing a man and was resting at the well. He came to their rescue and resolved the issue. Jethro was impressed and in gratitude asked Moses to marry his daughter, Zipporah.
Moses married Zipporah, had two sons Gershom and Elizer. He lived with Jethro and his family for 40 years. He often heard rumblings at the top of the Sinai Mountain and would feel drawn to go up there.
Our next stop was the Chapel of the Burning Bush. It is a phenomenon that defied science and logic.
We imagined Moses looking at the burning bush….
The flames leaped and danced engulfing the leaves. Moses watched the bush in a hypnotic trance. His brain tried to make logical sense of what he was seeing. The bush was a healthy green growth with branches running wild weaving a green tapestry of leaves.
The bush burned with an amazing fire but not a single leaf or branch burned. The fire seemed to be emanating from the bush but not burning it. The light from the fire threw a warm glow around and felt comforting.
A strong and deep voice spoke from the bush. Moses’ ears pricked at the sound. The voice told him to go back to Egypt and free the Israelites from the bondage of the Pharos.
Moses had been receiving several signs about freeing the Israelites and leading them out of Egypt towards Canaan, the Promised Land.
The Egyptian Pharos had enslaved them to build the mighty pyramids.
Moses was destined to lead them out of slavery but he was not sure how he would do this and it would mean revolting against the might Pharos.
Would these weak and scared slaves be able to fight the great Egyptian army? Did he have it in him to lead them all out of Egypt…towards freedom? Would they be able to cross the vast and unmerciful Sinai desert towards the Promised Land where milk and honey flowed?
Filled with these conflicting thoughts of wanting to break free but being afraid of taking the leap, Moses encountered the burning bush at the foot of mount Sinai.
The chapel of the burning bush is the holiest part of the monastery. We can see the chapel from a distance as it often closed for public viewing. The bush is lovingly tended by the monks and can be seen behind a high wall. It is native to the area and continues to grow wild and healthy.
On the exterior, high walls surround the monastery like a fortress. The gates of the monastery have been locked for hundreds of years. Access inside was by using a basket and pulley to a gate 9 meters high. Today there is a small gate that opens into the monastery used by the monks and pilgrims.
￼Standing at 2280 meters, Mount Sinai is just outside the monastery. Pilgrims trek to the summit very early in the morning to watch the sunrise. A small chapel dedicated to the Holy Trinity is found at the top. Gazing up at the peak I could see a small cross shining in the afternoon sun.
Mount Sinai was the catalyst for Moses to fulfill his destiny. It is here that he found family, he found the courage to follow his calling and he received the Ten Commandments.
If you are travelling to the Holy Land, do make a quick stop here.
For more stories about my travel to the Holy Land read HERE