Byzantine Icons in the Collection of Saint Catherine’s Monastery
The icon collection of Saint Catherine’s Monastery in South Sinai (Egypt) is a real treasure for all Christians, iconographers, and art experts. It contains more than two thousand icons. They all are Byzantine icons that were created in Constantinople and other lands of the country by the mid-15th century. Byzantium of the period included the territories of modern Egypt, Syria, Turkey, and Palestine. Although the center of the Byzantine icon-painting school was in the capital of the country, each land had a set of individual features.
Byzantine icons in the collection of the monastery
Antique Byzantine icons have long been decorating the walls of the Sinai Monastery. These include twelve menaion icons, “Moses near the Burning Bush,” and “Moses Receiving the Tablets,” among others. About 40 icons are placed in the basilica narthex, where they are open to parishioners and tourists. The core part of the collection is stored in 16 Capellas of the monastery and on the special shelves in the basilica. On each religious holiday, the corresponding icon is placed on the analogion.
The most ancient Byzantine icons are stored in the so-called skevofilacione, a storage room for liturgical items. Some antique icons are also in the altar zone. One notable example is a 13th-century triptych with the image of the Mother of God and the Child in the center of the composition.
Gems of the collection
The collection of Sinai Monastery features three encaustic masterpieces of the 6-8th centuries: “Christ Pantocrator,” “Apostle Peter,” and “Enthroned Madonna with the Holy Martyrs.”
There are also the oldest preserved icon of the Crucifixion (7-8th centuries) and the icon of Jude the Apostle and Tsar Abgar with bystanders (10th century). The Last Judgment icon has a very interesting image. It depicts the scene with an angel, which is very familiar to the 1170 angel image in St. Cyril’s Monastery in Kyiv.
One of the most admirable icons of Saint Catherine’s Monastery is the icon of Saint Nicholas with saints on the boards. This is the image of the second part of the 10th century. It is the oldest existent half-length image of Saint Nicholas. Unlike the later iconography, this icon depicts the saint with darker hair and a roundish face.
Byzantine icons from the collection of Saint Catherine’s Monastery are examples of the mastery of the highest degree, which makes Byzantine culture and art concepts more comprehensive.