The monastery of St Catherine was built as a fortress in the 6th Century by the Emperor Justinian to protect the Holy sites and shore up the Orthodox church in an empire threatened by barbarians in Italy, Spain and North Africa and a rebellious church in Egypt.
Faced by the conquest of the Middle East in the 7th Century by Islam, a religion resolute in rejecting images in worship, Christendom descended into a civil war over its own use of images. Only in St Catherine’s monastery did a few icons survive the destructive fury.
When relics became a potent mystical and economic force in the 10th Century, a miracle gave the monastery the bones of St Catherine who became one of the best loved saints of the Middle Ages with a sample of her oil held by the Kings of France in the Saint Chapelle of Paris.
When new biblical scholarship in the 19th Century forced a revaluation of history and scriptures, it was in the monastery of St Catherine that the oldest bible in the world was discovered.