Last week the New York Times’ David K. Kirkpatrick reported on a new round of violence against Coptic Christians perpetrated by Muslims in Cairo. On Sunday, The Guardian ran an Associated Press account indicating that the situation between Christians and Muslims in Egypt remains dangerous.
The rising — or at least more apparent — tensions made me wonder about conditions at St. Catherine’s, the Orthodox Christian monastery in a remote part of Sinai and arguably the oldest working monastery in the world. St. Catherine’s also is home to the world’s largest collection of Byzantine icons. Objects from St. Catherine’s famed collections — the monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage Site — were exhibited at the J. Paul Getty Museum in a memorable 2006 show.
Robert Nelson, a Yale University art history professor who co-curated the Getty exhibition, told me last week that so far as he knows — and his most recent information dates to just after Easter — life remains normal at the monastery:
As far as I know everything is fine there. They survived well the recent disruptions in the country. When the Tourist Police disappeared in January, as they did all over the country, leaving so many monuments exposed, the local Bedouin came together and organized protection of the monastery. The monastery has long looked after the Bedouin, who are Muslim of course. The monks provide simple medical care for them and some food, and the Bedouin in turn watch out for the monastery. In that part of Sinai at least, the two religions get along well. The Bedouin come to the monastery on Easter day after the church service to join the monks in their time of celebration and happiness.