Egypt reopens one of its oldest libraries in Saint Catherine

Daily News Egypt
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After three years of restoration work, Egypt reopened one of its most ancient libraries, in Saint Catherine, which contains more than 12,000 books and early Christian manuscripts, according to the Associated Press.

The restoration work was taking place in the eastern section of the library, which contains some of the world’s rarest scientific, religious, and historical books and manuscripts.

“The library is now open to the public and scholars,” Tony Kazamias, an adviser to the monastery’s archbishop told the AP, adding that restoration work is still underway without specifying a completion date.

The library is located at a UNESCO heritage site, Saint Catherine, South Sinai.

The 3,300 Christian manuscripts existing in the library are written in Greek, Arabic, Syriac, Georgian, and Slavonic, among other languages, while the books date back to fourth century.

“The most valuable manuscript in the library is the Codex Sinaiticus, [which] dates back to the fourth century,” Reverend Justin, an American monk working as the monastery’s librarian told the AP. “This is the most precious manuscript in the world,” he added referring to the ancient, handwritten copy of the New Testament.

Among the documents are ancient paintings, currently displayed in the Monastery Museum. “There are beautiful paintings in the manuscripts. When you turn the [pages] there is a flash of gold and colours. It is a living work of art,” Justin added.


The AP also reported that officials inaugurated the Mosaic of the Transfiguration, situated in the eastern apse of the monastery’s great basilica. The mosaic covers 46 sqm and features a rich chromatic range of glass paste, glass, stone, gold, and silver tesserae. Jesus Christ is depicted in its centre between the prophets Elias and Moses. The sixth century mosaic was created at the behest of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, who also requested building the monastery.

Saint Catherine was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2002. The place is sacred for all three religions: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. The monastery was founded in the sixth century and it is the oldest Christian monastery still in use until today. A small number of Christian monks still reside there, worshipping inside the highly-secured temple.

The monastery was built in memory of Catherine of Alexandria. Old tellings recount her story, who was a martyr that was sentenced to death on a breaking wheel. However, when it failed, she was beheaded.

Stories continue to tell that angels brought her remains to Mount Sinai, and the monks discovered them later, in the year 800. Since then, the site of the monastery has been dedicated to Saint Catherine. It is also a popular site for pilgrims. The monastery is unique since it is not only considered sacred to Christians, but also Muslims and Jews.

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