Digitization of the World’s Oldest Library


The precious parchments and manuscripts in the Santa Caterina Monastery Library, considered to be the oldest continually-operating library in the world, will soon be digitized thanks to an agreement between the Monastery, the Library of the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA), the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library and Arcadia Fund, one of the UK’s largest philanthropic foundations.

Built between 548 and 565, Santa Caterina Monastery, located on Mount Sinai, Egypt, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002. Its collection of ancient parchments and medieval manuscripts is second only to that of the Vatican.

The 3-year Sinai Library Digitization Project will create digital copies of about 1,100 rare and unique Syriac and Arabic manuscripts dating from the 4th to the 17th centuries, including important Christian Arabic texts from the 8th century–a period in which Christian communities were influenced by the spread of Islam and many scribes translated Christian writings and liturgies into Arabic.

The library’s remarkable manuscripts, which delve into subjects ranging from history and philosophy to medicine and spirituality, have for various reasons never been easy to access by scholars and students, who will now have the chance to study the texts virtually.