Chapel at Midday

The chapel at the peak of Mount Sinai, photographed at midday. The present chapel preserves the core of the much larger sixth century church, built at the site of the fourth century chapel.

From the Pilgrimage of Egeria, who visited Sinai around the year 383:

By this way, then, at the bidding of Christ our God, and helped by the prayers of the holy men who accompanied us, we arrived, at the fourth hour, at the summit of Sinai, the holy mountain of God, where the law was given, that is, at the place where the Glory of the Lord descended on the day when the mountain smoked. Thus the toil was great, for I had to go up on foot, the ascent being impossible in the saddle, and yet I did not feel the toil, on the side of the ascent, I say, I did not feel the toil, because I realized that the desire which I had was being fulfilled at God’s bidding. In that place there is now a church, not great in size, for the place itself, that is the summit of the mountain, is not very great; nevertheless, the church itself is great in grace. When, therefore, at God’s bidding, we had arrived at the summit, and had reached the door of the church, lo, the priest who was appointed to the church came from his cell and met us, a hale old man, a monk from early life, and an ascetic, as they say here, in short one worthy to be in that place; the other priests also met us, together with all the monks who dwelt on the mountain, that is, such as were not hindered by age or infirmity. No one, however, dwells on the very summit of the central mountain; there is nothing there excepting only the church and the cave where holy Moses was. When the whole passage from the book of Moses had been read in that place, and when the oblation had been duly made, at which we communicated, and as we were coming out of the church, the priests of the place gave us eulogiae that is, of fruits which grow on the mountain. For although the holy mountain Sinai is rocky throughout, so that it has not even a shrub on it, yet down below, near the foot of the mountains, around either the central height or those which encircle it, there is a little plot of ground where the holy monks diligently plant little trees and orchards, and set up oratories with cells near to them, so that they may gather fruits which they have evidently cultivated with their own hands from the soil of the very mountain itself.

6 comments to Chapel at Midday

  • Richard Saloom

    That is a wonderful account. It is hard to imagine the difficulties a 4th century woman would have experienced going to Sinai.

  • Anna

    Thank you for sharing Egeria’s account of her visit. Thinking of all those who have visited this same place down through the centuries fills me with a sense of wonder.

  • Maria

    Everything is alive, so fresh!
    Thanks Father Justin
    You give me reason to live now ..
    To climb the summit of Sinai and to be in the Liturgy
    Of St Catherine, once again
    Lovely Egeria’s experience

  • Clare Estrada

    Dear Father Justin, You have a beautiful blog. I am so glad I discovered it!

  • Jeff Wheelwright

    Fr. Justin, I’m just reading a new edition of Egeria by Anne McGowan. The church and the plantings mentioned at the end of this quotation–is that where the monastery is situated today? Probably the church itself has been superseded by another.

    • Father Justin

      The whole area was transformed in the middle of the sixth century when the Emperor Justinian ordered the construction of the present basilica and high surrounding walls. An ambitious basilica was also built on the summit of Mount Sinai. Older structures were superseded, or incorporated into later structures. And yet, I’m always amazed at how much survived. Egeria mentions the church at the summit, the church of the Prophet Elias below the summit, and the church in the valley at the place of the Burning Bush. We still have churches at these places today. In the fourth century, there were monks living in this remote wilderness, and at the same time, they ministered to the pilgrims who came here. These two parallel strands — monks and pilgrims — also continue to this day.

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