Library of the Monastery


Introduction to the Library of the Monastery

Nestled in the southern section of Saint Catherine’s Monastery lies a treasure trove of knowledge and history: its renowned library. This library has garnered international acclaim not just for its vast collection but also for its unique and rare Christian scripts and original books. It’s a repository of wisdom, where ancient texts and modern inquiry converge.

The Manuscripts The Sinai manuscripts, forming the backbone of this library, are the oldest and most significant collection in Christian monastic history. Among its over 3,300 manuscripts, two-thirds are in Greek, while the remaining are in languages like Arabic, Syriac, Georgian, and Slavonic, with rare finds in Polish, Hebrew, Ethiopian, Armenian, Latin, and Persian. These manuscripts range from liturgical texts to classical Greek literature, offering a panoramic view of educational and spiritual life through the ages.

The library’s crown jewels include the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Syriacus, a palimpsest with layers of historical significance. Moreover, the collection boasts an array of manuscripts on papyrus and numerous scrolls in Greek, Arabic, and Turkish, making it a living testimony to over seventeen centuries of monastic life.

Early Printed Books The library’s collection of early printed books is equally impressive, with around 8,000 volumes, predominantly in Greek. This includes first editions of monumental works by Homer, Plato, and Aristophanes, among others. These volumes, adorned with notes by the Sinai monks, reflect the deep scholarship and intellectual pursuits of the monastery’s inhabitants over centuries.

The Archive The Sinai archive is a historical treasure in itself, containing an array of documents, from letters and account books to charters, which shed light on the monastery’s history and its interactions with the world. These documents, some dating back to the fifteenth century, offer invaluable insights into the monastery’s operations, relationships, and the challenges it faced throughout history.

The New Finds A significant addition to the library came in 1975 with the discovery of the ‘New Finds’ – a cache of manuscript leaves and fragments in various languages, reflecting the diversity of the library’s collection. Among these were precious pages of the Codex Sinaiticus and ancient texts in languages as varied as Caucasian Albanian, offering scholars a rare opportunity to study and reconstruct ancient languages and scripts.

The Manuscript Illuminations The manuscripts at Saint Catherine’s are a blend of offerings from rulers, pilgrims, and the works of resident monks. They showcase a range of artistic styles in their illuminations and calligraphy, reflecting the rich cultural and intellectual milieu in which they were created.

Codex Sinaiticus The Codex Sinaiticus, a gem of the library, is a fourth-century manuscript containing the oldest complete New Testament. Its historical and textual significance is unparalleled, making it a cornerstone for biblical studies. The manuscript’s journey from Sinai to the British Library, through the hands of scholars like Tischendorf, adds a layer of historical intrigue to its legacy.

The Patent of Prophet Mohammed A unique aspect of the monastery’s history is its Letter of Protection from Prophet Mohammed, granted in AD 623. This document, known as the Ahtiname, has been instrumental in ensuring the monastery’s survival and fostering peaceful relations between Christians and Muslims over centuries. Though the original now resides in Constantinople, its replicas at the monastery continue to symbolize a legacy of tolerance and cooperation.

This introduction to the Library of the Monastery of Saint Catherine offers just a glimpse into its rich and diverse collection. It’s a sanctuary of knowledge, bridging the past and present, and a testament to the enduring power of learning and spiritual inquiry.

Created On March 25, 2020

Updated On January 26, 2024

ST. CATHERINE Travel Guide
Historic library with ornate ceiling frescoes, wooden bookshelves, and globes.
The grandeur of knowledge - a glimpse inside a baroque library with artful ceiling frescoes and centuries-old tomes
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As the sun casts its first light, two adventurers pause to absorb the majesty of the mountain's embrace

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