Thursday, May 10, 2007

Saints, Sinners & Heavenly Ladders, Oh My

I've long had a thing for depictions of the Heavenly Ladder of Saint John Climacus. I suppose it's the in-your-face symbolism of the good dudes making their way up the 30 rungs of the ladder to Heaven with the help of angels (Jesus is at the top) and the bad dudes being shot at and plucked by demons dispatched from Hell.

I bring this up because a most wonderful book with recently came my way. It is the bound version of the catalog of "Holy Image Hallowed Ground: Images From Sinai," a recently closed exhibit at the Getty Center in Los Angeles.

The exhibit included a stunning array of works from the Holy Monastery of St. Catherine, the oldest continuously operating Christian monastery in the world. Established in the 6th century, the monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai includes the most significant collection of Byzantine icons anywhere.

The monastery is located at a site sacred to several monotheistic traditions of the West.

According to the Hebrew Scriptures, Moses' encounter with the Burning Bush was there and continues to take root under the altar in the crypt. On the top of Mount Sinai where today pilgrims and hikers stand to watch the sun rise, Moses received the Ten Commandments. Saint Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, visited this place in 337. Muhammad visited the monastery and was given sanctuary; in turn he granted protection to the monastery complex and the monks -- an "order of protection" secured in a written document and honored from 640.

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