Saint Catherine Area (2002)

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 United Nations (Vienna) 2005. St. Catherine's Monastery.

The Orthodox Monastery of St Catherine stands at the foot of Mount Horeb where, the Old Testament records, Moses received the Tablets of the Law. The mountain is known and revered by Muslims as Jebel Musa. The entire area is sacred to three world religions: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. 

The Monastery, founded in the 6th century, is the oldest Christian monastery still in use for its initial function. Its walls and buildings of great significance to studies of Byzantine architecture,  and the Monastery houses outstanding collections of early Christian manuscripts and icons. 

  • United Nations (Vienna) 2005. St. Catherine's Monastery. 

The rugged mountainous landscape, containing numerous archaeological and religious sites and monuments, forms a perfect backdrop to the Monastery. 

United Nations (Vienna) 2005. St. Catherine's Monastery. First day cover cancelled 4th August 2005 in Vienna.

Mount Sinai, or Jabal Mosá in theological tradition, is the sacred mountain on which, according to the Old Testament (see Exodus 19), the Hebrew prophet and lawgiver Moses received from Yahweh the tables of the Ten Commandments, or the Decalogue. 

In other passages of the Bible, it is sometimes called Horeb. Authorities are not in complete agreement over the identification of the biblical Sinai, but most believe that the mountain referred to in the Old Testament is the peak now called Jabal Mosá (Arabic for “Mountain of Moses”). 

  • Egypt 2004. From the series of 30 stamps "Discover the Treasures of Egypt". St. Catherine's Monastery. 

Egypt 2004. St. Catherine's Monastery.

The peak is part of a rocky mass that almost fills the Sinai Peninsula of northeastern Egypt, between the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba. 

Egypt 2004. Aerial view of Mount Sinai.

Adjacent to Mount Sinai is Mount Catherine (Jabal Katrinah), the highest mountain on the Sinai Peninsula. Mount Sinai was regarded as a sacred mountain from ancient times (see Deuteronomy 33:2; Judges 5:5). 

It became an early center of Christian monasticism when Emperor Justinian I established the Monastery of Saint Catherine at the foot of the mountain in the 6th century; Saint Catherine's was a site of Christian pilgrimage for hundreds of years and remains a functioning monastery. 

  • Egypt 2004. From the series of 30 stamps "Discover the Treasures of Egypt". Aerial view of Mount Sinai. 
Egypt 1987. Sheetlet promoting tourism. Air post. Four of Egypt's famous tourist sites are depicted on the sheetlet; St. Catherine's Monastery is top right. Egypt 1987. The corresponding ordinary stamp (perforated) intended for surface mail.
  • Egypt 1987. Sheetlet promoting tourism. Air post. Four of Egypt's famous tourist sites are depicted on the sheetlet; St. Catherine's Monastery is top right. 

  • Egypt 1987. The corresponding ordinary stamp (perforated) intended for surface mail. 

In its justification for inscription the UNESCO states that the architecture of St Catherine's Monastery, the artistic treasures that it houses, and its domestic integration into a rugged landscape combine to make it an outstanding example of human creative genius. St Catherine's Monastery is one of the very early outstanding examples in Eastern tradition of a Christian monastic settlement located in a remote area. 

It demonstrates an intimate relationship between natural grandeur and spiritual commitment. Ascetic monasticism in remote areas prevailed in the early Christian church and resulted in the establishment of monastic communities in remote places. St Catherine's Monastery is one of the earliest of these and the oldest to have survived intact, being used for its initial function without interruption since the 6th century.
  • Egypt 1966. Air post. St. Catherine's Monastery. 

The St Catherine’s area, centred on the holy mountain of Mount Sinaď (Jebel Musa, Mount Horeb), like the Old City of Jerusalem, is sacred to three world religions: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. 

  • Egypt 1972. Air post. St. Catherine's Monastery on fire. 

It seems appropriate to mention here Saint Catherine of Alexandria, (lived 4th century), a Christian virgin and martyr, whose legend is the product of an unknown Carolingian writer, although her eventual connection with St. Catherine's Monastery is disputed. She was a popular early martyr, but has no ancient cult and is mentioned in none of the early martyrologies. According to legend, she was extremely learned even as a child. In Alexandria, she rebuked the Roman emperor Maxentius for his persecution of Christians and converted the philosophers he had ordered to debate with her. Maxentius condemned her to be broken on the wheel, but, by a miracle, the wheel collapsed. 

She was subsequently beheaded. Saint Catherine's body is said to have been discovered on Mount Sinai in about 800. The Monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai dates from 527, but early pilgrims make no mention of its connection with Saint Catherine. Her traditional feast day, November 25, was dropped from the Roman Catholic calendar in 1969. 

Sinai has long served as the land bridge between Africa and Asia, but its harsh climate has also made it a buffer zone between competing empires. In recorded history the peninsula has been invaded more than 50 times, by Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Arabs, Turks, and others. The recent history of the peninsula has been driven by competition between adjacent powers for control of the area. With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, Sinai grew in importance. Great Britain occupied Sinai and the rest of Egypt in 1882, mostly due to interest in the canal. During World War I (1914-1918), the Ottoman Empire attempted unsuccessfully to wrest control of the peninsula away from British forces. When Britain declared Egypt an independent monarchy in 1922, Sinai remained a part of Egypt. Since World War II (1939-1945), Sinai has been a recurring battlefield for conflicts between Egypt and Israel. Israel invaded the Sinai in October 1956 after Egypt interfered with Israel’s shipping by closing the Strait of Tiran (at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba) in 1951 and nationalized the British- and French-held Suez Canal in July 1956. Backed by British and French forces, Israel took control of the peninsula. The United Nations (UN) mediated a truce, however, and the troops withdrew by the end of 1956. 

Egypt 1985. Third anniversary of Sinai's return to Egypt.

In 1967 Egypt once again blockaded the Strait of Tiran. Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser also forced the UN Emergency Force, which had been stationed on the Sinai Peninsula since the Suez crisis, to leave the region. In response to these acts and Egypt’s repeated threats of war, Israel invaded the peninsula and captured the entire territory from Egypt in the Six-Day War. This war resulted in a temporary closure of the Suez Canal. In an effort to regain the land taken by Israel in 1967, Egypt, together with Syria, began the Arab-Israeli War of 1973 by attacking Israel in October of that year. Israel defeated the Egyptian and Syrian forces and retained control of Sinai, but a state of unrest continued. An Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty was finally signed in 1979, at the conclusion of a peace conference mediated by United States president Jimmy Carter at Camp David, Maryland. The treaty required that Israel withdraw entirely from the Sinai Peninsula. The withdrawal was completed in 1982, except for the city of Taba, where a large Israeli tourist resort opened in 1982; Taba remained occupied by Israelis until 1989. The peninsula is now divided into a number of zones of demilitarization, monitored by the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) drawn from the United States and other countries.
  • Egypt 1985. Third anniversary of Sinai's return to Egypt. 

Since 1982, the Egyptian government has expanded Sinai’s tourism industry, which was established during the period of Israeli control. The Red Sea coast, renowned for its scuba-diving sites, draws tourists from all over the world. Egypt has also maintained the military airfields left behind by Israel.

Sources and links:

Other World Heritage Sites in the Egypt (on this site). Inactive links are not described on postage stamps. Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, Egypt section, for further information on the individual properties. 

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Revised 20 jul 2006  
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