The architectural ensemble of the Sinai monastery is a record in stone, mortar, and wood, of its existence over the past seventeen centuries. The centre of this ensemble is the sixth century basilica, with its intact doors and ceiling beams, all of which are surmounted by the mosaic of the Transfiguration. Throughout these same centuries, offerings and gifts have been made by distinguished sovereigns and humble pilgrims. And the monks themselves have created manuscripts and icons as a part of their devotion, or offered their own gifts to the sacred site. These now constitute a veritable Ark of Christian art, and include icons, manuscripts, engravings, articles of ecclesiastical metalwork, carvings, embroideries, vestments. These attest to the unbroken continuity of the monastery’s existence, and to the devotion of pilgrims and rulers throughout its history.

The Holy Monastery of Sinai preserves these treasures in trust for the whole world, and makes every effort to preserve them in the best possible way, with the support of the government of Egypt, and in keeping with the UNESCO inscription of Sinai as a World Heritage Site.


Of all the Byzantine icons that survive in the world, over half of them are at Saint Catherine’s Monastery. This is due to the dry and stable climate, to the uninterrupted history of the monastery over the course of seventeen centuries, and to the vigilant care and devotion of the monks of Sinai. The most notable are panel icons from the 6th and 7th centuries executed in the encaustic technique, where wax is used as the medium for the pigments.

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The iconography that is distinctive to Sinai includes depictions of the All-holy Theotokos of the Burning Bush, the revelation of the Law to the Prophet Moses, and the life and martyrdom of Saint Catherine. The presence at Sinai of Moses and Elias, and their speaking with Christ at the Transfiguration, has ensured that this also is a frequent depiction at Sinai. This is to be seen, most importantly, in the mosaic that adorns the apse of the basilica.

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In the eastern apse of the great basilica, one sees the incomparable mosaic of the Transfiguration, and of the revelations of God to the Prophet Moses. This work dates to the sixth century, and was completed shortly after the construction of the basilica. Christ is depicted in the centre, his face shining like the sun, and his garments as white as light. Moses and Elias stand, speaking with him, while the Apostles Peter, James, and John are prostrate, overcome with the dazzling brightness of the revelation.

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Numerous wall depictions may be seen in the great basilica, or in the numerous chapels of the area. Two of the most important were executed in the encaustic technique (using wax as the medium for the pigment) and painted on the sixth century marble panels, to either side of the Holy Table. The mural on the left depicts the sacrifice of Isaac. Abraham is shown at the moment when he was about to slay his son, and an angel of the Lord commanded him to stop, in that he had proved his faith, but a ram caught nearby would be offered in sacrifice instead. The mural on the right depicts the sacrifice of Jephtha’s daughter. These depictions of sacrifice taken from the Old Testament would appear to have been added in the seventh century as a way of expanding the iconographic program of the apse, and pointing towards the fulfillment of the sacrifices of the Old Testament with the sacrifice of Christ, celebrated at each Divine Liturgy on the Holy Table in the centre.

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Many engraved prints can be found at Sinai. These are particularly important, as the engraved copperplates from which they were made have often been preserved in the Sinai treasury. These date from between the fifteenth and the nineteenth centuries. Also noteworthy are the various engravings of icons or of the Sinai area that were executed elsewhere and then brought to Sinai. Some of these used Sinai icons as their models, or the artist attempted to show all of the sacred sites in the vicinity of the monastery. These engravings followed the prevailing trends of their time, and in them it is possible to trace both the influence of Orthodox iconography and the traits of Western European art.


The monastery Skevophylakion, the Treasury, is located adjacent to the basilica, along the north wall of the monastery. Icons, manuscripts, vestments, and objects of ecclesiastical metalwork are on display in these rooms. These include some of the most important treasures of the monastery, including icons dating from the sixth century, and illuminated manuscripts from Constantinople.

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The Holy Monastery of Sinai, in its endeavors to conserve and to promote the heritage of the Sinai monuments, collaborates in different programs, and above all, with the Egyptian Archaeological Service; while, at the same time, it accepts any good intentioned interest that might present itself from any direction, either in the form of expertise, or in the form of financial support, and in this, always in full accord with the Egyptian state authorities.

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Scholarly interest in the Sinai increased markedly in the nineteenth century. The studies of scholars from the West are better known, though at the same time studies of great importance were carried out by scholars from eastern and south-eastern Europe as well as the Middle East.

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The Holy Monastery of Sinai supervise the Mount Sinai Foundation in Athens, Greece, a non-profit organization that helps the holy monastery in the coordination of activities aimed at the protection, the study, and the appreciation of the monuments of Sinaitic heritage. For the materialization of a part of the forementioned objectives of the Mount Sinai Foundation, it is building the complex of The Eurosinaitic Centre of Studies and Communications and Exhibitions in the area of Tragana of the Municipality of Atalanti of the Region of Fthiotida in the central Greek mainland, from where it will be easy to have access to the data of the Sinaitic Monuments Archive in digital form, and in combination with the organization of exhibitions of Sinai monuments, elements of the popular bedouin tradition along with relative scientific and educational one-day meetings and programmes in parallel with projections of virtual reality productions in multimedia that will make reference to the Sinaitic tradition and heritage.


The Sinai monastery possesses numerous works executed in metal. This is the more surprising when one considers that such works were often sold when the monastery was in great financial need, or given to various rulers as gifts. This was especially true in the 11th century. As a result, only a few works survive that date from before the twelfth century. But from the 13th century, such works become progressively more numerous.

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In the text of Justinian’s Neara to the Holy Monastery of Sinai, specific mention is made of the care that should be reserved to the liturgical vestments of its abbot. To this day, the simplicity and austerity of the monastic habit is in stark contrast to the liturgical vestments of the clergy, which testify to the significance of the celebration of the Holy Mysteries of the Church. One is reminded, also, of the ornate vestments that were directed to be made for the High Priest and his ministrations in the holy tabernacle. These vestments are gifts of faithful rulers and pilgrims to the holy monastery, which cares for them with great diligence.

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The most significant examples of woodcarving at Sinai are to be found in the catholicon and date from the sixth century. These include the four-leaved doorway made of cedar of Lebanon at the entrance into the nave, and the beams in the ceiling above, each of which is carved with a different design, but all of which harmonize perfectly with each other. These are carved with a variety of animal and plant motifs, executed with a sure hand and great skill. There are also important examples of wooden doors dating from the Fatimid period, in which designs of great geometric complexity are executed with each piece held in place by tongue-and-groove joinery.

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