There is now a website for the Sinai palimpsests project (sinaipalimpsests.org). Palimpsests are ancient manuscripts where a scribe scraped or washed off old text and new text was written over the old. This was done as parchment was expensive or difficult to find. In the past few years there have been important advances in multi-spectral imaging technology to help read the older underlying texts, which in many cases are of greater interest to scholars.
St. Catherine's librarian, Fr. Justin, notes:
[St. Catherine's has] been the destination of monks and pilgrims from many lands, who left behind manuscripts in their languages, both as gifts to the monastery and for use by future pilgrims. This accounts for manuscripts in eleven languages, with important collections in Arabic, Syriac, Christian Palestinian Aramaic, Georgian, and Slavonic.
The Sinai manuscripts continue to be essential for the study of the scriptures, the writings of the early Fathers of the Church, and the history of the services. They also include manuscripts of classical Greek texts, especially of important medical texts.
The Sinai palimpsests are of the utmost importance for scholars. The underlying text of the Codex Sinaiticus Syrus (Syriac 30) contains the four Gospels in Old Syriac, a translation made in the second century that only survives in one other manuscript in the world.
A few of the Sinai manuscripts are splendid works of art, with gilded letters and brilliant illuminations, created in Constantinople in the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth centuries, when the City was at its height as the centre of culture and devotion. But no less significant are the humble manuscripts written at Sinai, often on reused parchment, bound between rough boards, the pages stained from long use, a witness to the deprivations and austerity of Sinai, and to the generations of monks who have maintained the life of devotion and the cycle of daily services at this holy place.
The website has basic information on the technology and people involved in the project, as well as the Sinai manuscripts and library. Over the coming year, the photographs of the Sinai manuscripts will be added.
Archbishop Damianos, abbott of St. Catherine's, writes:
With special emotion we hail the commencement of the on-line presentation of a digital library of the Sinai Palimpsests. The Fathers of the Holy Monastery, as natural guardians of one of the largest manuscript libraries in the world, as well as the perpetuators of the centuries-long tradition of the Monastery, are now adopting the digital technology of the future with prudence, moderation and devotion to the sacred legacy of the centuries, holding in one hand the ascetic tradition and in the other the contemporary expression and technology. Continuing in the path of offering prayer in very critical times worldwide, the Fathers render, for the first time available to all, a digital library of the Sinai Palimpsests, in corroboration of the ecumenical dimension of their mission.
The Sinai Palimpsests Project is a collaboration of St. Catherine’s Monastery of the Sinai and the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library, generously funded by Arcadia.