Seeking to preserve ancient Christian manuscripts, a team from Greece are working on a project that involves photographing thousands of flimsy documents at Saint Catherine's Monastery at the foot of Egypt's Mount Sinai.The non-profit research organisation Early Manuscripts Electronic Library (EMEL) and the Library of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) are collaborating on the project, which began last year, Reuters reported. UCLA Library announced it will start publishing the manuscripts online, in full colour, starting in autumn 2019.
The manuscripts, which comprise early copies of the Christian gospels, will be subjected to a complex process that includes photographing images in red, green and blue light and merging them using computer software to create a single high-quality colour picture.
The scale of the task is growing by leaps and bounds with expectations that it may take more than a decade, using digital cameras and computer arrays alongside sophisticated cradles designed to support the more fragile manuscripts.
"The upheaval of our times requires a rapid completion of this project," Archbishop Damianos of Sinai, Faran and Raitho, and Abbot of Saint Catherine's Monastery, told Reuters by email. However, the digitisation of the first stage alone, the Syriac-Arabic manuscripts, will take around three years and cost a projected $2.75 million, said Michael Phelps, Director of the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library.
Although the monastery has survived centuries of warfare, it lies in a region where militants have destroyed countless cultural artifacts and documents in Syria and Iraq. “The Holy Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount Sinai,” which is part of the Eastern Orthodox church, lies in the safer southern half of the Sinai Peninsula. But in 2017, Isis claimed responsibility for an attack on a nearby Egyptian police checkpoint in which one officer was killed.
The aim is to create the first digital archive of all 4,500 manuscripts in the library, starting with around 1,100 in the Syrian and Arabic languages, which are particularly rare."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,"Phelps told Reuters.
UNESCO has listed the area as a World Heritage site, citing its sacred status in Christianity, Islam and Judaism. It says Saint Catherine's was founded in the sixth century and is the oldest Christian monastery still in use to pursue its original function."Throughout the centuries, monks have lived here in prayer, in dedication to spiritual goals, a witness to God's revelation to mankind... in that sense especially, the Sinai Monastery is an ark, a spiritual ark in the wilderness," said Father Justin of Sinai, the monastery’s librarian.