May 27, 2012

On Pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain, 383 | Walking Through Egypt

On Pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain, 383 
Egeria

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From Jerusalem to the holy Mount Sinai is twenty-two staging-posts. . . . Before you reach the holy Mount Sinai you come to the fort of Clysma (probably a village near Suez) on the Red Sea, the place where the children of Israel crossed the sea dry-shod. (Exodus 14.29) And the tracks of Pharaoh’s chariot are permanently marked across the sand; its wheels were a good deal further apart than the chariots that we now have in the Roman Empire, . . . .Pharaoh’s chariot tracks reach right down to the sea-shore at the point where he entered the sea in his efforts to catch the children of Israel.

This sea has the name Red’ not because the water is red or muddy. Indeed, it is quite as sparkling clear and cold as the Ocean. Its fish are excellent and unusually sweet, and fish of all types from this sea taste as good as the fish of the Italian Sea (Mediterranean). . . . Also there is a great deal of coral on this shore. Shur, the desert where they (the Israelites) went for three days without water is of an enormous size. No one has ever seen a bigger desert, and no one could guess the quantities of sand. Between the Desert of Shur and Marah there is one staging post next to the sea, and at Marah itself there are some palm-trees (very few), and two springs which holy Moses made sweet.

Egeria followed the route on a three-day journey to the next oasis and then went on to Abu Zenima by sea, the halfway point of the journey.

Next, two mountains come into sight on the left, and, before you reach them, there is the place where the Lord rained manna on the children of Israel. They are lofty mountains, and very steep. On one side of the mountains the valley is perfectly flat and like a colonnade two hundred yards wide, with the steep high mountains on either side. But where the mountains open out the valley is six miles wide and a good deal longer.

All around the mountains caves have been carved out, and, if you just took the trouble to put up some curtains, they would make marvellous bedrooms. Each bedroom is inscribed with Hebrew letters. At the far end of the valley there is good water in plenty . . . it is protected by mountains both sides, but it has no fields or vineyards, and there is nothing there but the water and some palm-trees (Feiran).

Egeria traveled on and, after a sixty-kilometer journey, reached the holy Mount Sinai.
When we arrived there our guides, the holy men who were with us, said, It is usual for the people who come here to say a prayer when first they catch sight of the Mount of God”, and we did as they suggested. . . .

So, coming from Feiran we said the prayer. Then, going on, we made our way across the head of the valley and approached the Mount of God. It looks like a single mountain when you are going round it, but when you actually go into it there are really several peaks, all of them known as the Mount of God , and the principal one, the summit on which the Bible tells us that “God’s glory came down” (Exodus 18.20), is in the middle of them. I never thought I had seen mountains as high as those which stood around it, but the one in the middle where God’s glory came down was the highest of all, so much so that, when we were on top, all the other peaks we had seen and thought so high looked like litde hillocks below us.

Late on Saturday, then, we arrived at the mountain and came to some cells. The monks who lived in them received us most hospitably, showing us every kindness. There is a church there with a presbyter; that is where we spent the night, and, pretty early on Sunday, we set off with the presbyter and monks who lived there to climb each mountain.
Fourteen centuries after Egeria stood on Mount Sinai, another

renowned woman traveler climbed to the same spot.

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