One of the world’s most important Christian sites came under attack. The Monastery of St Catherine (formally, the Sacred Monastery of the God-Trodden Mt Sinai), built over 1,500 years ago, is one of Christianity’s holiest sites. Gunmen opened fire on an Egyptian police checkpoint near the monastery, killing one policeman and wounding four others. Then, the gunmen retreated; they didn’t reach the heavily-fortified monastery compound guarded by Egyptian police and security forces. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack via its news agency.
The attack on the monastery comes just over a week after suicide bombers attacked two Coptic Orthodox churches in the Nile Delta city of Tanta and the coastal city of Alexandria, killing 45 people on Palm Sunday. According to officials, the gunmen fired from an elevated hilltop overlooking the police checkpoint just outside the monastery, which is located in a remote mountainous desert area in the South Sinai Governate, where, according to scripture, God spoke to the prophet Moses from a burning bush. The Greek Orthodox monastery was a popular destination, primarily for Orthodox Christian pilgrims, but Egypt closed off public access to it for security reasons in 2015, leaving only the monks and clergy inside the compound.
According to Orthodox Christian history, in the early 4th century, St Eleni, mother of St Konstantinos the Great, built the Chapel of the Burning Bush at the site where Moses is supposed to have seen the miracle. The fortified walls were built around the chapel by the Roman Emperor Justinian (who also commissioned the Cathedral of the Holy Wisdom of God (Agia Sofia/St Sophia)) starting in 527. Justinian’s workers completed the Church of the Transfiguration in the 560s, around the time of his death. In 2002, UNESCO declared the area around St Catherine Monastery a World Heritage Site because of Mt Sinai’s importance to three major world religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), the natural environment of the area, and the historic architecture and art at St Catherine Monastery.
18 April 2017