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St. Catherine's Monastery
At Mount Sinai monastery, ancient Christian manuscripts are brought into present
In the shadow of the Islamic State insurgency, a Greek team is photographing thousands of fragile documents, including some of the earliest copies of the Christian gospels, using a complex process to create the first digital archive of all 4,500 items in the library

At St. Catherine's Monastery at the foot of Egypt's Mount Sinai, the silence in the library is broken only by low electrical humming, as an early manuscript is bathed in green light.

 

 

A team from Greece are photographing thousands of fragile manuscripts, including some of the earliest copies of the Christian gospels, using a complex process that includes taking images in red, green and blue light and merging them with computer software to create a single high-quality color picture.

 

Librarian Father Justin of Sinai turns pages of a manuscript in the library of St Catherine's Monastery
Librarian Father Justin of Sinai turns pages of a manuscript in the library of St Catherine's Monastery

 

There is a tangible sense of urgency to the mission.

 

Although the monastery has survived centuries of warfare, it lies in a region where Islamist militants have destroyed countless cultural artifacts and documents in Syria and Iraq. Egypt's Christian churches have also been targeted by an Islamist insurgency in the rugged and thinly populated northern Sinai.

 

An ancient Mosaic of the Transfiguration
An ancient Mosaic of the Transfiguration

 

'The Holy Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount Sinai' - which is part of the Eastern Orthodox church - lies in the safer southern half of the Sinai Peninsula. But in 2017, Islamic State claimed responsibility for an attack on a nearby Egyptian police checkpoint, in which one officer was killed.

 

A monk adjusts a candle inside St Catherines Monastery
A monk adjusts a candle inside St Catherines Monastery

 

"The upheaval of our times requires a rapid completion of this project," Archbishop Damianos of Sinai, Faran and Raitho, and Abbot of St. Catherine's Monastery, told Reuters by email.

 

The aim is to create the first digital archive of all 4,500 manuscripts in the library, starting with around 1,100 in the Syriac and Arabic languages, which are particularly rare.

 

Librarian Father Justin of Sinai walks inside the library of St Catherine's Monastery in South Sinai
Librarian Father Justin of Sinai walks inside the library of St Catherine's Monastery in South Sinai

 

The task could take more than a decade, using digital cameras and computer arrays alongside sophisticated cradles designed to support the more fragile manuscripts.

 

A man photographs ancient manuscript as part of a digitization process in St Catherine's Monastery
A man photographs ancient manuscript as part of a digitization process in St Catherine's Monastery

 

The project began last year and is being undertaken by the non-profit research organization Early Manuscripts Electronic Library (EMEL), in collaboration with the monastery and the Library of the University of California, Los Angeles. UCLA Library said it will start publishing the manuscripts online, in full color, from the fall of 2019.

 

Gold letters can be seen in an ancient manuscript from the library
Gold letters can be seen in an ancient manuscript from the library

 

"This library is an archive of the history of Christianity and its neighbors in the Mediterranean world, and therefore is of interest to communities all over the world who find their history here," Michael Phelps, Director of the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library, told Reuters.

 

A monk walks inside the basilica of St Catherine's Monastery
A monk walks inside the basilica of St Catherine's Monastery

 

Where Moses trod

The monastery lies at the foot of Mount Sinai, by tradition the site where Moses received the Ten Commandments.

 

UNESCO has listed the area as a World Heritage site, citing its sacred status in Christianity, Islam and Judaism. It says St. Catherine's was founded in the 6th century and is the oldest Christian monastery still in use for its original function.

 

St Catherine's
St Catherine's

 

The most famous manuscript in the library is the 4th century 'Codex Sinaiticus' - a Greek manuscript of the Bible which contains the oldest surviving complete New Testament. Its pages are divided between several institutions.

 

Another is the Codex Syriacus, an ancient copy of the Gospels in Syriac. Other manuscripts cover science, medicine and the Greek classics.

 

A diptych icon
A diptych icon

 

The digitization of the first stage alone, the Syriac-Arabic manuscripts, will take around three years and cost a projected $2.75 million, said Phelps.

 

"Throughout the centuries, monks have lived here in prayer, in dedication to spiritual goals, a witness to God's revelation to mankind... in that sense especially, the Sinai Monastery is an ark, a spiritual ark in the wilderness," said Father Justin of Sinai, the monastery's librarian.

 

Librarian, Father Justin of Sinai
Librarian, Father Justin of Sinai

 

The project will provide a more complete record than partial microfilming carried out decades ago by the U.S Library of Congress, and also by the National Library of Israel. The two institutions are making their records available to the new digitization effort, the project organizers said.

 

 


פרסום ראשון: 04.20.19, 19:24
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