Ancient library housed in an Egyptian monastery reopens after renovation


An ancient library which holds thousands of centuries-old religious and historical manuscripts was recently opened in Egypt at the famed St Catherine Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site, in South Sinai.

The inauguration ceremony was attended by Egyptian and western officials. The opening comes after three years of restoration work on the eastern side of the library that houses the world’s second-largest collection of early codices and manuscripts, outnumbered only by the Vatican Library, according to the monastery’s archbishop Monk Damyanos.

“The library is now open to the public and scholars,” said an adviser to the archbishop Tony Kazamias, adding that restoration work is still underway.

The ancient library holds around 3,300 manuscripts of mainly Christian texts in Greek, Arabic, Syriac, Georgian, and Slavonic, among other languages. It also contains thousands of books and scrolls which date back to the 4th century.

At least 160 of the manuscripts include faint scratches and ink tints beneath more recent writing, according to Kazamias, who believes the palimpsests were likely scraped out by the monastery’s monks and reused sometime between the 8th-12th centuries.

During the library’s renovation, archaeologists apparently found some of Hippocrates’ centuries-old medical recipes. The ancient Greek physician is widely regarded as the “father of western medicine”.

The officials also inaugurated the Mosaic of the Transfiguration in the basilica of the monastery. The mosaic features a rich chromatic range of glass paste, glass, stone, gold and silver tesserae. It was created in the 6th century at the behest of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, who also requested building the monastery.

St Catherine’s, where the monastery is located, is an area revered by followers of the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Like the Old City of Jerusalem, it has become a popular destination and an attraction not only for monks and pilgrims but also tourists from the world over.

The 6th-century monastery, one of the oldest Christian Orthodox monasteries, is home to a small number of monks who observe rituals unchanged for centuries. Its well-preserved walls and buildings are of great significance to the students of Byzantine architecture. It’s situated at the foot of Mount Sinai, also known as Jebel Musa or Mount Horeb, where Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments.