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Getting Ready

The menologion icons have been temporarily removed from each column, the capitals have been cleaned, and the brass and silver are being polished in preparation for the feast of Saint Catherine.

Tristram’s Grackle

A number of Tristram’s grackles live in the area. They have black plumage with orange patches on the outer wing. They fly over the monastery, filling the air with their cries.

Tristram’s grackles (Onychognathus tristramii) are named after Henry Baker Tristram, an English clergyman and ornithologist, who travelled throughout the Sahara, Palestine, and Lebanon. In 1873, he became a canon of Durham Cathedral. In 1885, he published The Survey of Western Palestine: The Fauna and Flora of Palestine, in which he wrote,

Tristram’s Grakle. The discovery of this bird in the desolate ravines opening on the Dead Sea is one of especial interest, as it belongs to a group exclusively Ethiopian. This Grakle, known to the visitors to Mar Saba as the Orange-winged Blackbird, appears to be confined to the immediate neighbourhood of the Dead Sea, where it resides throughout the year in small bands, feeding at dawn and sunset. It has no varied notes, but a rich musical roll of two or three notes of amazing power and sweetness, which makes the cliffs ring again with its music. The Grakles are the wildest and shyest of the denizens of these desolate gorges, yet the monks of Mar Saba have succeeded in bringing them into a state of semi-domestication, while enjoying unrestrained liberty. I have never seen this bird elsewhere than round the Dead Sea. In the ravines of the Arnon and Callirrhoë it is more numerous than elsewhere.

Bedouin Boys

Two bedouin boys had been standing by the road, selling coloured eggs turned from alabaster to the tourists.

They hiked up their gelabiyas to wade into the water.

One of them waded into the swiftly flowing muddy water.

The other changed his mind and stayed where he was.

After about an hour, the water had subsided enough for us to continue on our way.

Flash Flood

In the Sinai desert, even a small rain can cause a flash flood.

Returning from Raithou a few years ago, we saw a sheet of water advancing over the road. There is no predicting how deep or how swift such floods will become. We turned around and drove down the road to higher ground.

The sheet of water covered most of the valley.

The waters gained in depth and speed.

The churning waters picked up sand and rocks.

The flow became quite swift.


On very rare occasions, a rainstorm at Sinai is accompanied by thunder and lightning. These photographs were taken to the west, with the lights of the village showing in the distance.

Sunlight Patterns

Sunlight from the east windows creates patterns on the north wall


Crosses etched on the granite stones behind the chapel of Saint Panteleimon

Remote Chapels

Chapels in a remote area of Mount Sinai, taken from a promontory high above. In the centre is the Chapel of Saint Gregory of Sinai, next to a twisted almond tree. In the distance can be seen the Chapel of Saint John the Forerunner. To the left, ruins of an ancient cell emerge into the sunlight.

September Sun

Services at Sinai begin at four o’clock in the morning, when the stars are still bright in the clear desert sky. The sun rises during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy some three hours later, filling the bema with light.

The basilica at Sinai faces exactly east. In the winter, the sun rises far to the south. The rays of sunlight do not enter the eastern windows, which are deeply set into the thick stone walls. Around February, as the sun rises farther to the north each day, the first ray of sunlight will enter, slanting to the left. By about the third week in April, the sunlight enters straight into the centre of the church. As spring gives way to summer, the sun rises more to the north, and the sun’s rays enter into the church slanted to the right.

By September, the sun is again rising farther to the south each day, and the sun’s rays are again slanted to the left. With the coming of winter, the sun’s beams will again cease to enter the eastern windows.

Gateway to the Kitchen Stairs

The gateway that leads to the kitchen stairs, with the trapeza bell in the early morning sun