Saving ancient texts in a Sinai desert monastery

Credit: Reuters Studio
Published on April 17, 2019 - Duration: 02:10s

Saving ancient texts in a Sinai desert monastery

In Egypt's conflict-ridden Sinai, a team from Greece are digitizing thousands of fragile and ancient manuscripts at St Catherine's Monastery, the world's oldest Christian monetary still in use which has a treasured collection.

Megan Revell reports.


Saving ancient texts in a Sinai desert monastery

In Egypt's conflict-ridden Sinai, a crack team of historians are working feverishly to preserve the ancient biblical world in digital form.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) ST.

CATHERINE'S MONASTERY LIBRARIAN, FATHER JUSTIN OF SINAI, SAYING: "We see here the juxtaposition of the ancient manuscripts and the modern technology.

We are trying to share the heritage that has been preserved here for so many centuries with people around the world." There is a sense of urgency to their mission.

The team are working from St.

Catherine's Monastery, an ancient site which has survived centuries of warfare.

But the threats aren't all in the past.

Egypt's Christian churches have been targeted by an Islamist insurgency in the northern Sinai, and militants have destroyed countless cultural artefacts in nearby Syria and Iraq.

But the project won't be completed anytime soon; there are some 4,500 fragile manuscripts to get through.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) MICHAEL PHELPS, DIRECTOR OF THE EARLY MANUSCRIPTS ELECTRONIC LIBRARY (EMEL), SAYING: "Say a 10 or 12 year project - it's feasible to digitize the entire library (of St.

Catherine's Monastery), but whether it's feasible or not we have to make it feasible because this library is an archive of the history of Christianity and its neighbours in the Mediterranean world, and therefore is of interest to communities all over the world who find their history here." Founded in the 6th century, St Catherine's is the world's oldest Christian monastery still in use.

Among other rare treasures, the collection includes some of the earliest copies of the Christian gospels.

The project's first stage alone will take around three years and cost over two and a half million dollars and there may be some surprises in there, too.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) PROFESSOR RONNY VOLLANDT, EXPERT IN MEDIEVAL JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN LITERATURE IN ARABIC AT THE LUDWIG-MAXIMILIANS-UNIVERSITÄT IN MUNICH, SAYING: "This endeavour is the first ever attempt to create a comprehensive catalogue (...) That has never been done before so there are many aspects of this collection which are unknown at the moment, there are many texts which are undiscovered as it were, unidentified basically." The project began last year and is a collaboration with the University of California, Los Angeles.

UCLA Library said it will start publishing the manuscripts online in the fall.

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