When Egeria visited the Sinai in 383-384, she wrote approvingly of the way the monks read to her the scriptural accounts concerning the various events that had taken place there. Thus we can speak of manuscripts at Sinai in the fourth century. It is written of Saint John Climacus that, while living as a hermit, he spent much time in prayer and in the copying of books. This is evidence of manuscript production at Sinai in the sixth century. The library at the Holy Monastery of Sinai is thus the inheritor of texts and of traditions that date to the earliest years of a monastic presence in the Sinai. In earlier times, manuscripts were kept in three different places: in the north wall of the monastery, in the vicinity of the church, and in a central location where the texts were accessible.

In 1725, Nicephorus Marthalis was elected Archbishop of Sinai. He had been a scribe, and the library contains manuscripts written in his hand. He had a great concern for the manuscripts, and asked that they be gathered into a new location opposite the Archbishop’s quarters, and that a catalogue of the manuscripts be drawn up.

In 1930, construction began on a new building along the south wall, which was completed in 1951. This provided a new space for the monastery’s collection of manuscripts and printed books. The library now consists of some 3,300 manuscripts, and some 8,000 early printed books, together with 5,000 new books.

In 1975, a cache of manuscript leaves and fragments were discovered in the north wall. These were damaged fragments that had been left behind when the books and manuscripts were moved in the eighteenth century.

Beginning in 2008, the entire top floor of the south wing will be renovated, to supply conservation workshops and digital photography studios, and greatly improved storage for the books and manuscripts, as well as an improved reading space for visiting scholars.

THE MANUSCRIPTS

The Sinai manuscripts comprise the oldest and most important Christian monastic library collection. Of its 3,300 manuscripts, two-thirds are in Greek. The rest are principally in Arabic, Syriac, Georgian, and Slavonic, through there are other manuscripts in Polish, Hebrew, Ethiopian, Armenian, Latin, and Persian. The New Finds correspond to these languages, and are stored adjacent to the library. The library also contains an important archive, containing letters, account books, charters, and other documents.

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EARLY PRINTED BOOKS

The Sinai library contains some 8,000 early printed books, of which 7,000 are in Greek. There are many early and important editions of the Holy Scriptures, of patristic and classical texts, and of Orthodox service books. These include the first editions of Homer (1488) and Plato (1513), and the Comedies of Aristophanes (1498), the Great Etymological Lexicon of the Greek Language (1499), and Suidae’s Lexicon (1499). The works of Aldus Manutius, the first to print Greek, are well represented.

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THE ARCHIVE

The Sinai archive contains documents, letters, account books, and other compositions, pertaining to the Holy Monastery of Sinai itself, and to its many dependencies. The oldest Greek documents date from the middle of the fifteenth century, but there are older documents in Latin and in Venetian.

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THE NEW FINDS

On May 25, 1975, Archimandrite Sophronius, then the Skevophylax of the monastery, discovered a cache of manuscript leaves and fragments in the tower on the north wall of the monastery. The room where they were discovered had been used to store manuscripts in earlier centuries, and when the manuscripts were transferred to a new location in the early eighteenth century, these damaged leaves and fragments had been left behind. These were subsequently hidden when the floor above the room gave way during an earthquake. They were recovered during the renovation of the tower. When the mass of leaves and fragments had been gathered and sorted, they were found to reflect the diverse languages found in the library: the majority of the manuscripts were in Greek, with the majority of the others in Arabic, Syriac, Slavonic, and Georgian. There were also texts in Hebrew, Latin, and Ethiopian.

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THE MANUSCRIPT ILLUMINATIONS

The manuscripts that are found at the Holy Monastery of Sinai are either the offerings of notable rulers or of simple pilgrims, or they are the work of the monks living at Sinai, written to supply some needed text. The earliest manuscripts written at Sinai date to the time of the Arab predominance of the area, a time in which contact with the Orthodox centres of book production were difficult. Codices written before the eleventh century are sometimes rich in decoration, while manuscripts written after that date are adorned with miniatures. Some of these have a Constantinopolitan provenance, and reached the monastery either directly, or through one of its many far-flung dependencies. In other manuscripts, the capital letters have been designed and executed with a high artistic ability.

CODEX SINAITICUS

The Codex Sinaiticus is dated to the second quarter of the 4th century. It is a splendid manuscript of the Holy Scriptures, which originally contained the entire Old and New Testaments, plus the Shepherd of Hermas, and the Epistle of Barnabas. It is written four columns to the page, in a clear and regular script. The Codex Sinaiticus contains the oldest surviving complete New Testament. The Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus are the oldest copies of the scriptures written on parchment. Scholars feel that they preserve a very early level of the text, and their study is absolutely essential for anyone wishing to study the history of the text of the scriptures.

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