Father Justin Sinaites visited Villanova on November 19, 2014 and delivered a two-hour presentation about the ongoing research on ancient and mediaeval texts held at St. Catherine monastery. The lecture, titled “Manuscripts East and West,” informed listeners about the religious history behind the construction of the monastery and the many religious events and stories tied to its existence.
The monastery is held under the Orthodox Church and is largely run by Greek clergy, keeping with the original tradition of the monastery’s ethnic makeup. Father Justin, however, is an American and is considered an exception among the running of the sacred place. The monastery was constructed sometime in the sixth century A.D. under the direction of Emperor Justinian I (Byzantine Empire/Roman Empire) and has survived numerous transitions of religious and political change. Father Justin mentioned a variety of texts kept at the library in numerous languages, including ancient Greek, Latin, Aramaic, Arabic, Hebrew, Syriac, and Coptic. The scope of contents found in the manuscripts range from liturgies to musical compositions to religious texts to law codes and many other forms of written sources.
In 1975, after a short fire broke out in the monastery, the members who reside at St. Catherine discovered a secret room containing thousands of documents. Over the centuries, the monastery underwent renovation and reconstruction, leading to the concealment of the room and even losing knowledge of its existence. To this date, the St. Catherine Monastery contains the second largest collection of ancient and medieval texts and is only second to the Vatican.
Scholars around the world are involved in the process of analyzing and preserving these valuable manuscripts. Through digital photography and scanning techniques, Father Justin has found that many texts were reused and previous writings covered with new text are made visible with digital scanning. In addition, scholars discovered that by changing the density and color of certain photographed texts, viewers can observe the original document even though it has suffered water damage and cannot be read by the naked eye.
Overall, Father Justin delivered a wonderful lecture on early Christian history and archive preservation. Hopefully he will return to Villanova, as this way his second trip, and inform us again on some amazing developments concerning his monastery’s projects. At the moment, the monastery is currently undergoing renovations to better preserve its large manuscript collection with the most modern technologies. Also, Father Justin mentioned that the monastery will soon offer workshops on site about archive management and preservation.