Egypt: ex-General, St.Catherine monastery must be destroyed

The oldest in the world. Threat to national security, he says

18 April, 12:32

    Door guardians sit inside the massive 5 meter thick walls of the 6th century Christian monastery of St. Catherine [ARCHIVE MATERIAL 20070804 ] Door guardians sit inside the massive 5 meter thick walls of the 6th century Christian monastery of St. Catherine [ARCHIVE MATERIAL 20070804 ]

    (ANSAmed) - Cairo, April 18 - A retired Egyptian army general wants to demolish the most ancient monastery in the world, located in the Sinai peninsula. In a request bound to raise protests not just from Christians, former Army general Ahmed Attiya Ragai asked to demolish the UNESCO-listed heritage site Monastery of St. Catherine, in the heart of South Sinai, built 15 centuries ago. The former general denounced it as a threat to Egypt's national security due to the presence of 25 "foreigners" in the complex. The foreigners would be the Greek Orthodox monks who run it. In front of the administrative court of Ismailiya, the former general also accused the monks of stealing surrounding land, hiding the fact that the monastery's foundation is on "Moses' well" (the spring, according to biblical tradition, which quenched the thirst of Jews fleeing from Egypt) and illegally building monastic cells and other buildings that did not exist when the complex was built in the sixth century. In order to determine the actual historic value of the monastery and truthfulness of the accusation concerning the "Moses' well" (one the prophets revered in Islam), the court has appointed a group of experts, suspending, at present, any decision on the complaint.

    Christian historiography traces the earliest traces of monastery to 17 centuries ago, when in approximately 328, Empress Helena, mother of Constantine, had a votive chapel built near the Burning Bush where Moses - according to tradition - spoke with God. The site is at the foot of Mount Horeb (Mount Sinai), whose peak is where the prophet received the tablets of the Ten Commandments. In the chapel location, Emperor Justinian had a monastery built in the sixth century, with high walls and also a rich library, which holds hundreds of ancient manuscripts. These documents, now in the process of being digitization, include papyrus of extraordinary value, including a copy of the first Bible, and make the library the second most important Christian library in the world, next that of the Vatican.

    The monastery is also a melting pot of different religious cultures. The complex also contains a mosque - never opened for worship because it was built in the wrong orientation, not facing in the direction of Mecca - and to witness to the peaceful coexistence of Christians and Muslims, the complex has enshrined a manuscript signed by the Prophet Muhammad, preserved in the library.

    Among the accusations against the Orthodox monks, who were visited in 200 by Pope John Paul II - is also that of having raised the Greek flag in special circumstances. Already in February 2014, the former general had made the same complaints to Egyptian journalists in Cairo. In a counter- press conference on March 30, a St. Catherine's monk, a former Parliamentary lawyer and members from local rejected the accusations , claiming that Attiya seeks to incite hostility in the peoples of the area.

    The pilgrimages and group visits to the monastery have been reduced by half, after attacks by raiders stole and at times, kidnapped tourists, returning them always after a few hours. But now visits have concluded due to months of continuous armed clashes between police and armed groups that the government accuses of terrorism. (ANSAmed).

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