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St Catherine's celebrated. (View).

Saint Catherine's Monastery in Sinai has been a centre of religious pilgrimage for over fifteen centuries, and is one of the oldest monasteries in the world. Set against waterless red rock on the upper slopes of Mount Sinai (where Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments), the monastery was built by order of the Emperor Justinian between 527 and 565 AD to house the bones of St Catherine of Alexandria (whose relics are stored in the Basilica). At its spiritual heart is the Chapel of the Burning Bush, an unassuming structure of tremendous religious significance; nearby is what is thought to he the bush itself, a rare species of the rose family, endemic to Sinai.

Apart from the powerful spiritual resonances and innate holiness of the place, which is palpable, the citadel itself in its extraordinary desert setting is a cause for wonder. Stone walls, from 40 to 200 feet tall, surrounded by gardens and cypresses and enclosing the ancient monastery buildings (including a tenth-eleventh century mosque), have enabled it to survive numerous attacks during the course of its history. Until the twentieth century, the only entrance to Saint Catherine's was a small door 30 feet above the ground, to which people and provisions were lifted by pulleys and from which food was lowered to nomads.

One important consequence of the monastery s physical survival is the accompanying survival of one of the world's great libraries which contains the second largest collection (after the Vatican) of illuminated manuscripts, and an extraordinary collection of works of art, including Arab mosaics, Greek and Russian icons, paintings and sacerdotal ornaments. The library and manuscripts are in need of conservation. After more than a century, a new artistic record of Saint Catherine's has been completed by artist and architect, Doug Patterson, whose skill in delicately capturing the colours and compositions of landscape and architecture, and the essence of daily life, has developed in the course of travels through India and North Africa, North and South America.

In 2001 and 2002, Patterson stayed for long periods at the monastery absorbing its rhythm of prayer, and recording through drawings and water colours the small daily events that make up monastic life, and the stark dignity of buildings and landscape. Twelve lithographs of his water colours, including topographical views, architectural illustrations and scenes of monastic life, have been gathered into a portfolio and proceeds from sale of limited editions will go towards the cost of conservation.

The limited edition of 250 boxed portfolios is being issued by the Saint Catherine Foundation at [pounds sterling]1100 each. Further details from the foundation at 14 Cleveland Row, London SW1A 1DP. Tel: +44 (0)20 7396 5420. Fax: +44(0)20 7396 5440.

In addition there will be a launch of the works at Sotheby's, 10 April 2003, in New York.
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Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:70MID
Date:Apr 1, 2003
Words:473
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