Thursday, March 04, 2004

Mt. Sinai Monastery Digitizes Some of World's Oldest Manuscripts

"Working in an eight-by-eight-foot plastic tent, Rev. Justin Sinaites, using a special 75 megapixel digital camera, shoots images that practically replicate the original manuscripts from the 3,300 work collection of St. Catherine's monastery. St. Catherine's is the world's oldest continuously inhabited Christian monastic community. The collection includes some of the world's oldest Bibles, dating from the fifth century, and books in 11 languages, including Greek, Latin, Arabic, Persian and Slavonic.

With the specially designed camera produced by Swiss company Sinar, a 64-exposure image of a 10th-century manuscript of the Gospels, written in gold leaf, reveals a luster on the Greek letters that seems as realistic as if one were viewing the actual book, and in a close-up the uneven texture of the gold leaf is crystal clear.

At a cost of around $50,000, donated by European and American institutions and individuals, digitizing the manuscripts is part of a comprehensive conservation program that involves conservators' approving all manuscripts before they are photographed. Eventually some of the work may also be put online. The ultimate goal of St. Catherine's digitization project is to photograph all 1.8 million pages in the monastery's manuscript collection.