Where bedouins protects monks

St. Katarina kloster

I have travelled to many places, but the place that maybe made the biggest impact is seeing the sunrise from Mount Sinai and then climbing down to The Monastery of St. Katherine at the bottom of the mountain. That was in December 2010. A couple of weeks ago I read some disturbing news. The Egyptian security authorities had ordered the 1,500-year-old monastery to close for visitors. There were no more work for the Bedouin residents of the area and they were forced to sell their camels to feed their families.

St. Katarina kloster

This area in the desert, Mt. Sinai, were Moses is believed to have received the Ten Commandments from God, and the monastery, is sacred to all three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is also the third most visited tourist destination in Egypt, after the Pyramids and Luxor. These days we here stories from the northern Sinai about war between security forces and islamic groups. And burning and looting of churches from many places in Egypt. There have not been any assault on the Monastery of St. Katherine. Actually it has been protected for over 1400 years by the the Jebeliya Bedouins. They are muslim, and the monks living in the monastery are Orthodox Christians. In the monastery there is both a church and a mosque.

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The Monastery of St. Katherine is the oldest continuously inhabited monastery in the World. According to the monaterys web site it was built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the 6th century AD, although there was already a church at the site of the Burning Bush erected by the Empress Helena in 330 AD. The monastery was under the protection of the Prophet Mohammed, under Arab and Turkish leaders and Napoleon, all of which helped to preserve it virtually undamaged during the centuries.

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Both pilgrims and tourist often climb Mt. Sinai, also called the Moses mountain, to see the sunrise. That is climbing up in the dark, either by foot or a rented camel, then wait in the often freezing cold to see the sun rise. The area is not only a sacred place, but also a national park and Unesco World Heritage Site. I am not sure if it is possible to climb the mountain now. According to an Orthodox web site the bedouins and the monastery have problems  anyway: “Through the arrest of the Pilgrims’ influx as well as that of the halting of the tourists’ arrivals, due to the broader crisis in the Middle East, the Monastery has been driven to such a total economic state of adversity that it is unable to cope with its traditional obligations towards its Bedouin workers as well as to continue its charitable work in favour of the Desert dwellers.” I am worried because I can’t return to this very interesting place, but the crisis in Egypt of course have much worse implications for the people living there. I hope for the best. I hope that all the anti-democratic and sectarian forces will soon be defeated, and for peace and prosperity to the people.

There are more pictures in my photo gallery from the Moses mountain and the monastery. And a lot more information about the mountians, the monastery and the bedouins at the St. Katherine information web site.

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67 thoughts on “Where bedouins protects monks

  1. Oh my gosh. I am so SAD to hear this. St Katherine’s and Mt Sinai are places I can never ever forget. We were there in the mid 1990s and the sacredness of the silence up there impressed me deeply. I am going to look at their website now.

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  2. Looking at the photos and reading the current events in Mt. Sinai somehow made me teary. I’ve seen the place countless times on TV but never have I actually set foot in it…everytime I do, it just makes me teary…so many events transpired in that place…mostly we ascribe holiness to it…I hope as well that we do not make unholy what people before us have preserve in that place no matter what our belief or position in life is…

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  3. Stunning photos. I had never heard of this monastery so was most interested to read about it.
    Sad how conflict is causing such hardship for the locals.
    Thanks for sharing Bente.

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  4. Very impressive photos !
    The clarity of the air and the tone (contrast) is completely different from other photos I’ve seen in your blog.
    And even the way you capture the other people is different too.
    (Strangely, you face your own people with more reserved eyes.—– that’s what I felt here.) 😉

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  5. Thank you for these gorgeous photos and an illuminating narrative. It is tragic that the interdependence and well-being of the monastery and the community are at now at risk. This is a place I would dearly love to visit.

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  6. I love your post…thank you so much:) I wanted to go to Egypt and hoped to climb Mt. Sinai…I went to the MIddle East in 1998 for three weeks to Syria, Turkey, Jordan and Israel…incredible places to see and walk…the people were welcoming and interesting…I did meet several Bedouins and we were invited to dinner one night to their tents on the Jordan desert…such a fun loving people and I enjoyed our dinner but mostly I enjoyed their hearts full of life and fun:) Music and dancing was great too!

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  7. Beautiful post, story and pictures alike. Thank you dear Bente, I learned something very interesting. One feels powerless though, but we can teach our children and grandchildren to be respectful of other cultures and religions.

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  8. Love the photos. It does make me sad, all the troubles in the middle east countries. I’ve been to several, egypt, libya, yemen…. They are beautiful countries and have nice people but it’s no longer possible for us to visit. Not even to mention what this means for the people who live there themselves……

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  9. Beautiful photos and touching story. Your photos with such peaceful and interesting faces remind us that there are so many good people everywhere. Unfortunately we hear and see so much more about the very few who do not have such lovely, peaceful faces or spirit.

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  10. Beautiful pictures and a sad story. Thanks for sharing this with us. May the wonderful people there survive these troubled times, to share the beauty and history with the travelers and pilgrims of the future.

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  11. It is pretty unsettling all these things happening in these areas of the world. How fortunate you had a chance to experience such amazing places during a time of peace. Thank you for your insights and beautiful photographs, Bente.

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    1. I remember that moment well, and I like that picture too. It is just when the sun rise, and almost everybody was looking the other way, towards the sun. I am sure it is very hard work to climb the mountain every night, and be dependent of the money the tourists have to offer for the bedouins goods and services. And so much harder now, with very few tourists and pilgrims. Thanks for your comment, Brulioman.

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      1. thnx, nice to read that story behind the picture as I had no background like this. I like sunrises and usually I was enjoying it 4 – 7 times every year but now I’m in Ireland where most mornings is cloudy or rainy 😦
        sunrise is great reward after efford you take to wake up and arrive to right place

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  12. super post, terrific pictures. Thank you for following my site Bente, I’m delighted to visit here, and to reciprocate. Looking forward to seeing more of your wonderful work in future. my very best regards, from Dublin. -Arran.

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  13. Beautiful photos. And it reminds me so much of Jordan which I miss very much, especially my Beduin friends there 😦 Not sure when I’ll ever get back there though. Sad to hear there is so much trouble now about going to Mount Sinai as it was on one of my ‘to-do’ lists…
    Carol.

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    1. Jordan is on my to-do-list, and Mount Sinai again absolutely. But as it is in the Middle East and North Africa at the moment, I might not go to any of these countries. It is so sad, ond most of all for those living there. Not to mention the beduins that rely on income from tourists.Thanks for your comment.

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      1. Jordan is very safe still. Their main (perhaps only) industry is tourism so the tourist is king. They will still try to rip you off money-wise though! (the town Arabs, not the Beduin). The Beduin there are lovely people and are good guides 🙂

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