St. Catherine's Monastery of the Sinai Palimpsests Survey
St. Catherine’s Monastery of the Sinai, Egypt
In cooperation with His Eminence Archbishop Damianos of Sinai and with generous support from Arcadia, a London-based foundation, EMEL will field a scientific team to St. Catherine’s Monastery of the Sinai, home of the world’s oldest library, to work with the Father Justin, Monastery Librarian, to:
- Study the reflective qualities of palimpsests in the monastery library (how the inks and parchment of these manuscripts reflect different wavelengths of light).
- Demonstrate the feasibility of using multi-spectral imaging and related technologies to recover the erased texts on these palimpsests.
Palimpsests are recycled manuscripts. Frugal medieval scribes would scrape an old manuscript to remove the ink and write new text over the old. The erased layers of writing can preserve texts from antiquity that survive in no other form. Built in the 6th century, St. Catherine’s holds 120 known palimpsests that contain classical, Christian and Jewish texts in Greek, Syriac, Georgian, Armenian, Arabic, and other languages. Only three of these palimpsests have been extensively studied, and all three contain erased texts from the 4th-7th centuries.
The survey will advance our scientific understanding of palimpsests by studying how palimpsests with inks and parchments of different chemical compositions reflect different wavelengths of light. This information will assist libraries around the world that hold palimpsests to design methods to make the erased texts legible again. St. Catherine’s Monastery holds a large and diverse collection of palimpsests that provides the optimal conditions for such a survey.
At the conclusion of the survey, EMEL will submit a report to His Eminence Archbishop Damianos a report that describing the methods by which the underlying texts can be recovered in service to the monastery and to scholarship.
Project participants include:
- Roger Easton, Professor, Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York.
- Keith Knox, Senior Scientist for Boeing LTS, based in Maui, Hawaii.
- William Christens-Barry, Chief Scientist, Equipoise Imaging, LCC, based in Maryland.
- David Cooper, Director of Digital Lightforms, Ltd., U.K.; former Librarian, Corpus Christi College, Oxford University.
- Michael B. Toth, Consultant in Technology Planning and Integration, R. B. Toth Associates; Project Manager of the Archimedes Palimpsest Project, Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore.
- Michael Phelps, Executive Director, Early Manuscripts Electronic Library, California.
Next-Generation System for Digitizing Codices
From fall 2005 through spring 2007, EMEL coordinated an international working group to design a next-generation system for digitizing fragile codices that would realize the following priorities:
- Support fragile bindings throughout the digitization process.
- Achieve best contemporary image standards in terms of spatial resolution, pixel depth and color fidelity to the original.
- Optimize workflow so that large-scale digitization projects are cost-effective and feasible.
- Create a multi-use system capable of digitizing diverse media via modular design.
- Be transportable for projects around the world.
Stokes Imaging of Austin, Texas, is now manufacturing this new system. Click here for a PDF that describes this next-generation system for digitizing fragile codices.
The following experts participated in the working group:
David Cooper, formerly of Oxford University, and photographic consultant to St. Catherine’s Monastery of the Sinai; Father Justin Sinaites, Librarian of St. Catherine’s Monastery of the Sinai; John R. Stokes of Stokes Imaging, designer of turnkey systems for large-scale digitization projects for the U.S. Library of Congress, National Geographic, and the National Library of Medicine; and John T. Stokes of Stokes Software, designer of workflow management software for large-scale digital conversion projects.
National Center of Manuscripts, Tbilisi, Georgia
In September 2007, EMEL traveled to Tbilisi to collaborate with Georgia’s National Center of Manuscripts to digitize a selection of its most important manuscripts. The Center preserves outstanding manuscripts in a variety of languages that are the heritage of Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities. This project featured the digitization of early Georgian manuscripts that originate from St. Catherine’s Monastery of the Sinai.
St. Catherine’s Monastery ‘Diaspora’ Manuscripts Project
EMEL seeks to digitize manuscripts that were once part of the library of St. Catherine’s Monastery of the Sinai but are now scattered in libraries around the world. In this way, scholars will be able to study the history of the world’s oldest continually operating library and reconstruct the relationships among its manuscripts. As the first installment of the project, EMEL digitized the Peckover-Foot Codex, a 12th century Greek New Testament manuscript in the Department of Special Collections, Young Research Library, UCLA.
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece
EMEL and Department of Medieval Studies of Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, Greece, have entered a strategic alliance to develop projects to digitize collections of Byzantine manuscripts. Prof. Vasili Katsaros of Aristotle University is exploring project opportunities in Greece and the Middle East.
Other major projects are in development and will be announced when appropriate.