Nils Mattsson Kiöping On Mount Sinai

Here’s another two chapters of my ongoing translation of Nils Mattsson Kiöping’s 1667 travelogue. I’ve introduced a paragraph division for legibility.


Chapter 22: Sinai part 1

On the afternoon of the 31st we mounted the mules, ten of us except the monks, and travelled through sand and little thorn bushes. Along the way there was no water: we would have suffered great thirst if we had not brought water in leather bottles. On the 2nd of September we came to Mount Sinai. We sat there beneath the mountain while the monks went up to tell their brethren about our arrival.

When they returned they had with them six other Carmelite Fathers who brought warm water with which they washed our feet, kissed us and thanked us for the great charitable deed we had done their brothers. Before we could go up onto the mountain, however, we had to put down our guns in a guard house where about 300 Turkish soldiers kept watch over said mountain. All are supported by these monks who live on the mountain, and they have to keep keen watch there, fearing the Jews greatly, who seek with the greatest zeal to take this mountain from the Christians, as Moses has received the Law in that same place from God Almighty.

On the 3rd of September the Envoy went to confession, and then to the Lord’s Communion in the Carmelite monastery, since he was a Catholic. In the evening he asked the Carmelites to arrange for us to see some famous remains that might deserve to be told of to the Christians. This was also promised. The next morning we went out with two Carmelites and eight Greeks who showed us the whole environs, as follows.

Chapter 23: Sinai part 2
You must first note that these two mountains stand on a single foot. Horeb is called Chu Orel by the Christians who live in Asia as well as by Muslims. It means a desert, as Stony Arabia or the Sea of Sand, where the Children of Israel wandered for 40 years, begins there when you travel from the sea to Horeb. It is not very high in itself. But Mount Sinai is very high and pointed, indeed, more than four times as high as Horeb. It is still called Saint Catherine’s Mountain by the Christians, because the Catholics claim that Saint Catherine’s body, after she was tormented in Alexandria in Egypt, was taken there by six angels and found wrapped in a bloody sheet by some hermits who lived there. And though this mountain was once very difficult to get onto, the Christians have now with their own money and at great cost had 142 large and wide steps cut into the hard cliffs before you reach the gates themselves, so that now both camels and donkeys can get up and down.

Here on the mountain only two creeds have a permanent presence: the Carmelites here have five and the Greeks two congregations, and the Muslims three churches, which are all listed below. Once you have gone up the stairs you come to two tall gates which stand next to each other. In one hangs a carved stone cross, through which all Christians must go, and in the other a crescent, where all Muslims are to pass through. Immediately on the left hand when you enter the gate you come to a monastery named Santa Maria de la Cinnatura.* Next to it was a beautiful spice garden with all kinds of spices and roses, and fruit, such as in particular apples of Paradise, which they called muses, which is as large as a man’s two fists, and has leaves that are 1½ fathom long and a foot wide, and taste delicious. There are also apples, pears, myrtle berries, Indian figs or pisang, dates and other unfamiliar fruits. There we were served salt and fresh bread as well as all kinds of fruits and myrtle wine. All of the soil in which these trees are planted has been collected at the foot of the mountain and dragged up onto it. They also had another kind of wine which they called liatico,** a very expensive and delicious wine. Here are also lovely fountains from which flow excellent drinking water.

Higher up on the left hand is a monastery named Saint Anne. It is a beautiful monastery that we visited. There was a lovely garden, which they said was planted by John the Evangelist. These Carmelites never eat meat, but only spices, herbs, roots and fruit. Higher up is a chapel that has a triangular tower with some ponds around it. Here is shown a hole in which Elijah is supposed to have stayed when he fled from Jezebel, being fed water and bread by the angel. At the upper end near the mountaintop is a cleft rock where God let himself shine on Moses when he walked past and could not see his face, for which reason Moses went back, and still there is impressed into the rock, as I have seen with my own eyes, like a hole from a fat and short man, with the rear part of the head, back, feet and extended arms. Finally, high up on the top is shown the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God Almighty.

Below on the left is a monastery named Saint Catherine. Here the monks have Saint Catherine’s body in a white alabaster coffin, which the priest shows to pilgrims and wandering Christians, with a tool made from silver. Out of these dead bones comes fat similar to oil, but it is neither oil nor balsam. Then he shows them her head and the bloody sheet that she was found in. Behind the altar they had a dry bush which they said was the very one that Moses saw burning yet not being consumed by the fire. We all had to take our shoes off before being allowed to come near it. I saw it quite well but I will hardly believe that it is the same one.

Below this on the left hand is another monastery named Saint John the Baptist, which also has a beautiful garden, with lovely ponds or cisterns. Here the Greeks had their congregations, one named Koloizisi, which do not keep themselves as clean as the Catholic ones. There are great differences between them, in their church services as well as in customs and food, insomuch as they eat meat and pork. They have some houses there that they call Basilopoli, as they claim that two sons of kings would lie buried there.

All the way at the bottom below (but still inside the gate) are four Turkish churches. One they have allowed the Greeks and pilgrims to celebrate Mass in. The second one is locked: inside (they said) would be a pit or hole in the rock, where Moses would have lived and fasted for 40 days (after having crushed the first set of stone tablets), and now asking for new ones. In the event that he did not now dare to scale as high as before. But in the other two, the Muslims hold their divine services. And their priests who live in their churches on the mountain and at its foot (in Arabic a church is called mossea or messgita) call themselves Nantonoss, that is, the protectors of the holy tombs. Of which saints these are the most important: Omar, Osman, Hussein and Abubakr. The Muslims pray to them. They also greatly venerate Mohammad’s daughter, named Fatimah.

* Cincture, girdle, belt. Cf. the Cincture of the Theotokos on Mount Athos in Greece.

** Liatiko is a Cretan grape variety once used to make Malvasia wine.

Author: Martin R

Dr. Martin Rundkvist is a Swedish archaeologist, journal editor, skeptic, atheist, lefty liberal, bookworm, boardgamer, geocacher and father of two.

2 thoughts on “Nils Mattsson Kiöping On Mount Sinai”

  1. A teensy weensy nitpicking: The mountain of Sinai was retconned into the Old Testament at a relatively late date, along with the story of Moses walking slooowly across a very small region for 40 years. There are several peaks in the mountaneous center if the peninsula, the peak today named after Musa (Moses, the christian/jewish mt Sinai) appears to have been picked at random.

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  2. I looked up Mt Sinai on Google Earth – now completely desertified, and no evidence of any kind of development at all on the mountain itself (named Jabal Mousa (Musa), so probably the right location). St Katherine’s Monastery is still there in the valley immediately to the north of the mountain, incorporating what looks like the dome of a mosque. I fancy I could see the steps on the side of the mountain referred to, but it’s hard to tell – the image is too blurry when blown up enough to see properly.

    The peak really is very pointy.

    That’s as much fact checking as I could manage.

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