The heritage of the monastery of Santa Caterina will be digitized, kept in what is considered the oldest library in the world still in operation. The parchments and precious manuscripts will be made available in open access mode thanks to an agreement between the monastery, the library of the University of California in Los Angeles (Ucla), the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library and Arcadia Fund, a British fliantropic group that deals with conservation of cultural heritage and that has made available 980 thousand dollars.
Built between 548 and 565, the monastery of Santa Caterina on Mount Sinai is the oldest Christian monastery still in operation and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002.
Its well-preserved Byzantine walls protect the active library since the 7th century. His collection of ancient parchments and medieval manuscripts is second only to that of the Vatican.
The digitalization process involves the creation of 400 thousand images, including texts written in the ancient Syrian language and important documents of eighth-century Christian Arabic literature, when Christian communities were influenced by the spread of Islam and many scribes translated the writings and the Christian liturgies in Arabic.
“The UCLA library is looking forward to making these important manuscripts available to students, scholars and the public all over the world” said Ginny Steel, librarian at UCLA. Among the most important texts is Syriac Sinaitic, a 4-century translation of four chants of the New Testament in Syriac and the Sa’id ibn Batriq, the oldest manuscript of what is considered the first universal story in Arabic written by a Christian author, Eutichio Patriarca of Alexandria.
“This project will open new avenues of research – said Peter Baldwin, Arcadia’s co-founder and professor of history at Ucla – and will improve the understanding of the history of the region“.
Indeed, the intention is to make more easily the heritage of over 3300 volumes on papyrus and parchment that have been kept in the monastery for over a thousand years. But the vastness of a cultural heritage story (estimated at over 1.8 million pages) does not make the monk’s task simple or even immediate.