Endangered Archives

EAP823: Digitisation and preservation of the manuscript collection at the Monastery of St Saviour in Old Jerusalem

Professor Ewa Balicka-Witakowska, Polish Institute of World Art Studies
2015 award - Major project
£28,625 for 18 months

Archival partner: Biblioteca della Custodia di Terra Santa in Jerusalem

Project Overview

The objective of this project is to digitise and make widely accessible the full collection of manuscripts at the Franciscan monastery of St Saviour in the Old City of Jerusalem. The collection contains 553 codices and rotuli, dating from the 12th to the 20th century and written in eight languages: Arabic, Armenian, Ethiopic, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Syriac and Turkish. A special group is made up by the decorated and illuminated manuscripts. The collection, due to its richness and diversity, presents great scholarly interest. The project will create approximately 140,000 pages.

The collection, due to its remarkable diversity, brings valuable research material for a large group of scholars interested in Christian, Islamic and Jewish traditions, and of importance for linguists and philologists, art historians, and musicologists. The collection is a storehouse of information for scholars interested in the archaeology and history of the Western and Eastern manuscript tradition.

The texts present great variety and contain theological and philosophical treatises, biblical and liturgical books, dictionaries, profane and religious poetry, collections of sermons, pilgrim accounts, and also cooking recipes and magic prayers. Among the books are also rare items, for instance texts written in Armenian and Arabic scripts but in Turkish language or the fragments of Byzantine manuscripts used for binding as the fly-leaves. A special group is made up by large size liturgical books with musical notations, produced for monastic choirs, as well as precious volumes lavishly decorated and illuminated with miniatures, initials and aniconic ornamentation. Research material of particular value consists of a variety of book covers (leather, textile, metal, decorative cardboards etc) representing diverse binding methods. As the whole, the collection presents a remarkably wide spectrum of Western and Eastern manuscript traditions: Christian, Islamic and Jewish.

The particular character of the collection makes this digitisation a challenging task (particular problems arise at the photographing of huge size volumes and books illuminated in gold and silver) but the team of the applicant is well experienced and accustomed to work with difficult manuscripts.

The digital collections will be deposited with the Biblioteca della Custodia di Terra Sancta in Gerusalemme at St Saviour; the British Library; the Centro di Ricerca Europeo Libro Editoria Biblioteca, Milano, Università Cattolica; The Instituto Biblico del’Ateneo Antoniano, Roma; the Centre of Christian Oriental Studies, Cairo, Muski Monastery (library partner for BCTSG); and the Library of the Higher Franciscan Seminary in Kraków (Poland).

Project Outcome