The National Library of Israel (NLI) in Jerusalem has announced that some 1,600 Christian manuscripts, as well as dozens of photos and rare film footage from Saint Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai Peninsula, are now available free of charge online via the NLI website.
Saint Catherine’s Monastery, officially known as the Sacred Autonomous Royal Monastery of Saint Katherine of the Holy and God-Trodden Mount Sinai, is home to the world’s oldest working library, functioning since Byzantine Emperor Justinian I founded the monastery in the sixth century CE.
In the late 1960s, with the permission of the Greek Orthodox Archbishop, the Jewish National and University Library (today’s National Library of Israel) carried out a survey of the manuscript collection at St. Catherine’s Monastery. Following this survey, and following the agreement made with the Archbishop, approximately 1,600 manuscripts that had not been microfilmed in a previous expedition undertaken by the US Library of Congress were microfilmed by the Israeli team.
The collection, urgently digitized in recent years after it become clear that the original microfilms were rapidly deteriorating, includes manuscripts dating from the 12th century onward in an impressively diverse array of languages including Greek, Arabic, Syriac, Georgian, and Armenian, a treasure-trove of ancient texts related largely to early Christianity and the Church Fathers.
The online collection also includes dozens of photos of the monastery and its environs taken by Israeli photographers soon after the Sinai was captured during 1967’s Six-Day War, as well as recently surfaced rare color footage taken by Jacques Soussana, a cinematographer, photographer, and former Library employee whose wife recently donated the film to the NLI. The film was digitized with the help of the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive and the Jerusalem Cinematheque.
According to Dr. Stefan Litt, curator of the National Library of Israel’s Humanities Collection, who oversaw the project, “the digital images of these manuscripts are truly priceless, particularly for scholars of Orthodox Greek Christianity. They show us how the collection’s manuscripts looked more than fifty years ago and are now safely preserved and long-term.”