Saving Books in the Sinai

The LA Times has a fascinating story of the efforts to digitally preserve the thousands of ancient manuscripts at St. Catherine's Monastery in the remote Egyptian Sinai region. The Greek Orthodox monks of St. Catherine's have carefully preserved this priceless history for over a thousand years.

St. Catherine's is traditionally thought to be the place where Moses saw the burning bush. It is considered sacred by Muslims and Jews as well as Christians; supposedly, Mohammad himself ordered that the monastery be protected from harm, and it has operated without interruption since the sixth century A.D.

Now, under the guidance of a Texas Longhorn priest and with help from the local bedouins, many of the monastery's fragile documents are being digitally photographed so they can be studied and cherished by people everywhere.

"If you do the math, it's discouraging," says Father Justin, who oversees the library. "There are 1.8 million pages, not to mention the manuscript fragments discovered in 1975, known as the New Finds; the scrolls and the collection of early printed books — all in overwhelming numbers. But each manuscript is the work of a patient scribe working with difficult materials, recording a text of importance. Each manuscript is unique, and each is yet another facet of the library of Sinai, contributing to our understanding of the spiritual heritage that has been preserved here."

As someone who loves books and instinctively preserves as many of them as I can (much to my wife's dismay sometimes), I have a lot of admiration for this effort. These manuscripts are the heritage of Christianity, and Christianity is the foundation of Western civilization. They need to be saved from the ravages of time. Thanks to the monks of St. Catherine's, they will last forever.

Hat Tip: Way of the Fathers


Jennifer F. said...

I just sent this link to about 10 people. What a great find. Thanks for covering this fascinating article!

Patrick said...

I'm glad you liked it. Check out Mike Aquilina's Way of the Fathers blog, linked in this post. He covers early church history like no one else.

Mike Aquilina said...

Is my mother paying you?

Patrick said...

Yes, tell her my bill is on the way. :)