Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here
Subscribe to Aleteia's free newsletter: Goodness. Beauty. Truth. No yelling.
Sign me up!

Not Prepared to Donate?

Here are 5 ways you can still help Aleteia:

  1. Pray for our team and the success of our mission
  2. Talk about Aleteia in your parish
  3. Share Aleteia content with friends and family
  4. Turn off your ad blockers when you visit
  5. Subscribe to our free newsletter and read us daily
Thank you!
Team Aleteia

Subscribe

Aleteia

The oldest continuously operating library in the world is in this Egyptian monastery.

SAINT CATHERINE MONASTERY
Share

It’s also the second richest library on Earth, due to the number and value of its books.

One of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world still in operation, the Monastery of Saint Catherine in Sinai is home to almost 2,000 years of history — and many more years of legend: tradition claims, for example, that the main altar of the monastery is built on the spot where the Burning Bush first addressed Moses.

But the monastery, declared a world heritage site by UNESCO, also holds other places of honor. For example, it accommodates the oldest continuously operating active library in the world.

From the day it was founded in the 6th century (between 548 and 565, according to chronicles), the library of St. Catherine at Mount Sinai has never closed its doors. Built during the reign of Justinian I, the monastery was originally sponsored by the mother of Constantine the Great, Empress Helena. Its walls are still home to ancient Roman scrolls dating back to the days when the monastery itself was founded, which makes St. Catherine’s the second largest collection of codices and manuscripts in the world, right after the Vatican Library in Rome. In fact, from this monastery comes the famous Codex Sinaiticus, the biblical text dated to the year 345.

The collection of the monastery, as explained by Dattatreya Mandal for the Realm of History website, includes a copy of the Gospels from the 5th century, a copy of the “lives of the holy women” of 779 and a copy of the Apology of Aristides, probably one of the few surviving copies of this text, as the original Greek version still remains lost. It is also home to plenty of Arabic manuscripts, among which a copy of the “Ashtiname Muhammad” can be found: this is the text in which the Muslim prophet claims to offer protection to the monastery, grants tax exemptions to the Christian monks living in it, and also exempts them from military service during the years the area was under Islamic rule.

Currently, the library at UCLA is digitizing approximately 1,100 unique Syriac and Arabic manuscripts preserved at the monastery, dating from the 4th to the 17th centuries.

Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.
Aleteia offers you this space to comment on articles. This space should always reflect Aleteia values.
[See Comment Policy]
Readers like you contribute to Aleteia's Mission.

Since our inception in 2012, Aleteia’s readership has grown rapidly worldwide. Our team is committed to a mission of providing articles that enrich, inspire and inform a Catholic life. That's why we want our articles to be freely accessible to everyone, but we need your help to do that. Quality journalism has a cost (more than selling ads on Aleteia can cover). That's why readers like you make a major difference by donating as little as $3 a month.