Blog

Sharing St Catherine’s hidden texts

On a recent visit to St Catherine we had the privilege of being taken into the library by Father Justin to observe the ambitious renovation project. When completed, the library will be fully equipped with state-of-the-art technology for conservation and access. This is part of ongoing work to share the treasures of the monastery and make them more accessible to scholars, as well as tourists and pilgrims.

St Catherine’s Monastery has a rich collection of icons and other religious objects, but it is most famous for its library. With more than 3,300 manuscripts, it is second only to Vatican in terms of the number of ancient texts it contains. While the Vatican library was assembled carefully over the centuries, St. Catherine’s collection is different, more eclectic.

“The Sinai library differs from most libraries in that it grew organically to provide the monks with copies of the scriptures and books that would inspire and guide them in their dedication,” says Father Justin. Many of the monks and pilgrims who came to the monastery over the centuries left manuscripts as gifts, resulting in an especially idiosyncratic collection. In addition to important Christian texts, the library contains, for instance, one of the world’s earliest known copies of the Iliad.

Father Justin began a programme of digitising the monastery’s collection in the late 1990s. He knew, however, that he was unable to make a record of some of the most intriguing texts in the collection. Since the late nineteenth century, scholars had been aware that many of the works in the collection are palimpsests that conceal older texts. Over the years, scholars were able to read three of the palimpsests that were legible, but the vast majority remained invisible to the naked eye and went unstudied.

He then learned of the use of multispectral imaging technologies and in 2011 an ambitious scientific collaboration began imaging some of the 130 manuscripts that had been identified as palimpsests.

Read more about the remarkable Sinai Palimpsest Project http://www.archaeology.org/issues/207-1603/features/4155-egypt-monastery-palimpsests

20.02.2017

< Back to Blog

“So many thoughts about our wonderful trip to St Catherine; the fantastic warmth of welcome from the Egyptians, Fathers Justin and Nilus, and the unique history which we felt privileged to be given access to. In my book, how could one not enjoy and be inspired!”

Julia Palmer, St Catherine Retreat, February 2017

“A great experience altogether and I am grateful to all the organisers, to the guides and drivers, to all the staff at guesthouse and hotels, to the Bedouin we visited; all contributed to a perfect trip. “

Verena Watson, Tailor Made Desert Journey, April 2016

“Huge thanks to all at Wind, Sand & Stars for an amazing trip. John’s passion for Ethiopia fires his erudition and he gave us more insights into the country, past and present, than we could ever have gained from local guides.”

Christine Dunmow, Exploring Ethiopia’s Orthodox History with John Binns 2016

“I am hugely impressed with Wind Sand & Stars’ organisation and their relationship with the Bedouin family who looked after us. These local contacts made the experience especially rich.”

Richard Ames-Lewis, Adventure into Silence, October 2014

© Copyright 2017 Wind Sand & Stars. Company Reg. 0315 1618. VAT No: 709 3461 33