CONVENT OF ST. CATHERINE, MOUNT SINAI.
by David Roberts.
This Convent has been built in the form of a square fortress of hewn granite, and flanked with towers, of which one or two have cannon. Thus situated, in a country where, from the general helplessness of the Monks, it would not remain unmolested by the Arabs for a single day, its strength forms the chief security of the inhabitants for it is accessible only by a projecting trap-door, guarded by another of iron, about thirty feet above the ground. The means of access are a capstan and rope, with a loop at the end, to which travelers fasten themselves, and are thus drawn up.
The Convent is large, and resembles a small town, containing many buildings, several courts, and storehouses, a Mosque, with a minaret 1) and a Chapel celebrated as the richest in the land. It has an inexhaustible supply of pure water, from a well, which the Brethren point out to the traveller as that of Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, to which the great lawgiver led his flocks, 2) while he was yet living in obscurity in Midian.
The Convent has been built upon the spot where, according to tradition, the Almighty first manifested Himself to Moses, and spake to him out of the burning bush, “Cast off thy shoes, for the spot whereon thou standest is holy ground.”
From the sacred character of the spot, many ascetics and anchorites established themselves in recesses in these Mountains as early as the fourth century; but tradition relates, that the Convent was established by Justinian, a.d. 527, on the site where a small Chinch had been built by the Empress Helena.
1) The Mosque, a singular object in a Christian Convent, is said to have been built by Mahomet, who gave the Monks a letter of protection, a copy of which is still shown. The Mountain is visited, and highly venerated, by the Mohammedans.
2) Exodus, iii. 1.
Source: The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt, & Nubia, by David Roberts (British, 1796-1864), George Croly, William Brockedon. London: Lithographed, printed and published by Day & Son, lithographers to the Queen. Cate Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, 1855.