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Sunday, May 23, 2010

St Catherine's Monastery

St Catherine's Monastery: the oldest continuously inhabited Christian community in the world, a fortress of worship and contemplation, surviving a hostile environment and waves of invasions. Proclamations from the Prophet Mohammed himself, and centuries later Napoleon, guaranteeing its safety. A prolific shrub said to be the descendent of the actual burning bush, no other specimen of this species in the Sinai peninsula, and no cutting from this bush ever survives transplantation. A gallery of icons protected from purges, including colorful portraits of St. Catherine herself (a feisty Mediterranean lady who defied culture and family for faith almost two thousand years ago, a legacy of passion for God and martyrdom). A library of manuscripts second only to the Vatican's, a bastion of preservation, with Gospels dating back to within a couple of hundred years of their original composition, painstaking ink strokes crowding page after page, delicate miniature paintings decorating them. An ornate church floating incense, a well where Moses was said to have met his wife, a narrow passage through meters of stone, long-bearded Greek Orthodox monks.

We toured the monastery on Thursday morning after coming down from the mountain, and by noon were in a shared mini-van type taxi (this time air conditioning!! Ok, we are weak .. . but I can sympathize a LOT more with the complaining Israelites, the sense that the Sinai goes on forever, waterless and winding ways.) The long trip, back to Cairo, this time with a heavy wind of desert dust (another reason to be glad for the AC with closed windows). Cairo must be one of the largest cities in the world, should look that up, but it holds about a quarter or more of Egypt's entire population, mostly in high-rise apartment clusters which are austere and uniform, block after block. Blaring horns, swerving buses, street-side vendors, donkey carts piled with unbelievably beautiful watermelons a splash of color and moisture in this parched place, men bustling, veiled women, the creative script of Arabic everywhere, then the wide Nile which cuts the city in half, and more of the same. We met back up with the Massos Thursday night, relaxing to be finally on the "Karen plan", merging into the pre- arranged take-care-of-you tour. After two days in the Sinai, sequential 7 hour bus trips, getting up at 1:30 am to catch our flight and then 3 am to climb the mountain . . we were ready for the showers, the beds, and the care of a tour guide! On to the pyramids . . . .

1 comment:

Ivy said...

cairo- 13th largest city, 21st most densely populated :) ~Christina