The Chapel of St. Panteleimon is known locally as Kinist el-Hmar, the Church of the Donkey. Located in a secluded little basin, it is one of the many ancient religious sites atop the Mt. Sinai range. Ahmed Abu Ghalaba, one of Bedouin elders who worked several dacades on Mt. Sinai, tells the story behind the name.
In the past monks lived in the basins of the Mt Sinai range, each had his own little garden and a chapel in it. They had ample time to tend the gardens and devote themselves to their faith in solitude. The monks grew what they could, vegetables, salad greens and fruits, and even wheat uncle Ahmed said. They weren’t fully self-sufficient though, and had to bring up supplies too from the village. The old monk who lived in this basin had a donkey which he took with him every Sunday when he descended to the village to attend the mass at the church in the Monastery. Later the same day with supplies packed on the animal the monk returned to his mountain-top garden. One day the monk died, but next Sunday the donkey still descended without him to the village. That’s how people knew something happened to the monk, and ever since the Bedouin call the place the Church of the Donkey.
These hidden little mountain-top basins are beautiful places, each with a different character. From the basin of Kinist el-Hmar one can see Mt Katherine, Egypt’s highest mountain separated from Mt Sinai by Wadi Farah and Wadi Arbain stretching between the two ranges deep below, but from certain angles the peak of Mt Sinai is also visible. Over a pass you can get to Farsh Safsafa, the Basin of the Willow, or over a little ridge to Farsh Loza, the Basin of the Almond. In both, there is a garden with an ancient chapel and a well. Monks don’t live in them any more, but the Monastery still looks after the gardens and the Bedouin fetch water from the wells. These places are along the full-day Mt Sinai-Safsafa trek that finishes on the top of Mount Sinai. Following are a few photos of Kinist el-Hmar in winter, spring and summer.