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In the Spotlight: the St. Catherine & Sinai Crosses

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St. Catherine Cross inspiration. Via

Gallery Byzantium’s Sinai Cross and St. Catherine Cross are both inspired by the St. Catherine Monastery on Mount Sinai.

The Sinai Cross is inspired by a 6th century processional cross from the monastery’s collection.  It bears the inscription “IC XC” for “Jesus Christ” and “NI KA” for “conquers.”

The St. Catherine Cross is inspired by a fresco in a side chapel apse of the monastery (the monastery is renowned for its beautiful Byzantine icons and frescoes).

This week, we’re highlighting these two beautiful crosses and sharing the histories and stories of St. Catherine and the Mount Sinai monastery that bears her name.


St. Catherine of Alexandria

Photo via

St. Catherine of Alexandria was a 3rd century martyr, celebrated for her piety and determination.  “She is the patron of philosophers and scholars and is believed to help protect against sudden death.” 

Catherine “…was the daughter of Constus, the governor of Alexandrian Egypt during the reign of the emperor Maximian (305-313).”  Her privileged upbringing ensured that the young girl received an excellent, well-rounded education.  As beautiful as she was intelligent, Catherine’s hand was sought by the most prominent young men of the empire, but she would not have them.   After receiving the mystery of the Holy Baptism, Catherine had a vision of the Theotokos and Christ where “[…] the Lord looked tenderly at her and gave her a beautiful ring, a wondrous token of her betrothal to the Heavenly Bridegroom.” 

With her holy betrothal, Catherine’s faith (already great) strengthened.  “She protested the persecution of Christians under the Roman emperor Maxentius—whose wife and several soldiers she converted while imprisoned—and defeated the most eminent scholars summoned by Maxentius to oppose her.”  Catherine was tortured for her beliefs and was sentence to death on a spiked wheel, but the wheel broke when she touched it.  She was subsequently beheaded, her head and hand (with her wedding ring) eventually brought to the monastery on Mount Sinai which bears her name.

One of the most popular saints, St. Catherine is celebrated for her determination and strength.  It is said that she was among the heavenly voices that spoke to Joan of Arc.  Today, St. Catherine in commemorated on November 24th.

St. Catherine Monastery at Mount Sinai

Photo by Berthold Werner. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Founded in the 6th century, St. Catherine’s Monastery is the oldest Christian monastery still in use for its intended function.  The Greek Orthodox monastery is situated at the foot of Mount Sinai, a sacred area of great importance within Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, where “Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments.”  Today, the monastery is heralded as one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites.

St. Catherine’s sits at the site of the Burning Bush.  In the 4th century, St. Helena had built a chapel there to commemorate the miracle.  The chapel, unfortunately, lay unprotected and in 527, “after complaints of robber incursions from the hermit monks who had settled there,” Byzantine emperor Justinian fortified the site with high walls.  Having also rebuilt the Hagia Sophia, Justinian also commissioned the building of the monastery’s Church of the Transfiguration.

“The monastery was at first under the jurisdiction of the Jerusalem patriarch; its independence was recognized by Constantinople in 1575.” 

Many pilgrims have made their way to St. Catherine’s throughout the centuries.  Perhaps most incredible is that the monastery “…still retains much of its original appearance and has had an unbroken history since the 6th century. The original gray granite walls […] still stand, and so does the church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, which was built at the same time.”  Whether this is a testament to the strength ancient architecture or perhaps a divine protection surrounding the area, it’s remarkable how well the monastery has held up.

“The altar of the “Holy of Holies” of St. Catherine’s Monastery is placed directly over the roots of the Burning Bush, which still thrives outside the chapel. (Photo Credit: Bruce M. White Photography).” –

In addition to its architectural and spiritual significance, St. Catherine’s Monastery is home to many treasures of religious and historical importance.  Perhaps most impressive is the library which houses more than 3,000 manuscripts of mainly Christian texts.  These manuscripts cover a myriad of languages from Greek and Arabic to Syriac, Georgian, and Slavonic.  Of these manuscripts, the most valuable is the Codex Sinaiticus, an ancient, handwritten copy of the New Testament dating back to the 4th century.  The library is also home to thousands of books and scrolls which date back to the 4th century. The library’s collection of codices and manuscripts is second only to the Vatican Library.

According to many sources, “[t]he monastery’s greatest treasures are its icons, some of which were painted before the 8th century[.]”  St. Catherine’s is home to more than 2,000 icons, representing every school of Byzantine iconography between the 6th and 18th centuries.

You can learn more about St. Catherine’s monastery and its treasures in the video below.  (Can’t view the embedded video? Click here to view it directly on YouTube).  You can also visit the Monastery’s website,

Saint Catherine’s Monastery –
Egypt Reopens Ancient Library at St. Catherine Monastery –
Saint Catherine Area –
St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai Peninsula –
St. Catherine of Alexandria –
Great Martyr Catherine of Alexandria –
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