Museum Home Past Exhibitions Holy Image, Hallowed Ground: Icons from Sinai

November 14, 2006–March 4, 2007 at the Getty Center

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Saint Macarius / Unknown

This exhibition offers an unprecedented look at some of the oldest surviving icons from the Byzantine world, and provides rare insight into monastic life, past and present, at the remote Holy Monastery of Saint Catherine.

Lying in the shadow of Mount Sinai in Egypt, the Holy Monastery of Saint Catherine is the world's oldest continuously operating Christian monastery. Since the third century, monks have resided here, at the foot of the mountain where Moses is said to have encountered God. The present church and monastery walls were commissioned by the Byzantine emperor Justinian, who ruled over most of the Mediterranean region, including the Sinai peninsula, between 527 and 565.

Fifty-three objects have traveled from the monastery in Sinai for this exhibition. All were either commissioned by the monastery or received as gifts and have remained in the continuous care of generations of monks at Saint Catherine's.

Because of its geographic and political isolation from the Byzantine Empire, the monastery escaped the destruction of religious images that was sanctioned by Byzantine emperors during the period of Iconoclasm in the 700s and 800s. The veneration of icons continued uninterrupted at Sinai, and over the centuries the monastery both commissioned and received as gifts numerous icons, manuscripts, and liturgical objects.

Today, Saint Catherine's monastery is the world's largest repository of Byzantine icons. The works on display underscore the icon's central role in religious practice and introduce the public to the compelling history of Saint Catherine's.

Behind the Scenes: Follow the Icons' Journey from Egypt