Ancient coins found near St. Catherine’s Monastery


(eTN) – Egyptian Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni announced Sunday that two golden coins of the Byzantine emperor Valens (AD 364-378) were unearthed early this week in the Sayl al-Tuhfah area in Gebel Abbas, located west of Saint Catherine’s monastery in Sinai. He added that these coins were found during routine excavations carried out by the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA).

Dr. Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the SCA, described this discovery as unique. It was the first time things belonging to Emperor Valens were found in Egypt. Coins of Valens were previously found in Lebanon and Syria, never Egypt. Remnants of the walls along with fragments of clay, glass and porcelain were also unearthed.

Farag Fada, head of the Coptic and Islamic department at the SCA, said that one side of both coins bears an image of the emperor wearing an ornate crown decorated with two rows of pearls surrounding a golden cross, in addition to his official attire. Meanwhile, the other side shows the emperor wearing his military attire, holding a staff with a cross in his left hand and a ball surmounted by a winged angel in his right hand.

Tarek El-Naggar, head of the Coptic and Islamic monuments in Sinai, explained that both coins were pressed in Antioch (now Antakya in southern Turkey). Further excavations are now taking place to uncover more objects that will add to people’s knowledge of Sinai and its history, especially during the Byzantine era.

Not far from where the coins were found, at the St. Catherine’s monastery a Byzantine-inspired 527 A.D. basilica still stands. It has 13th century mosaic icons, the church tower with nine bronze bells donated by the Russian Tsar Alexander II in 1871 and an ancient bell still used daily but not for morning mass (the simandro wooden board does the job of the prayer-call) and an ossuary guarded by the cassocked skeleton of the monk St. Stephen.

Yearly, millions of tourists visit Sharm el Sheikh and Monastery resting at the foot of the Mountain of Moses where the “deliverer” is said to have received the Ten Commandments in Sinai. Pilgrims and the curious alike, throng the site revered by many as one of the holiest places in the world.