Hill Museum & Manuscript Library at St. John’s University completed a manuscript preservation project in the Middle East shortly before the violence worsened in Syria, sctimes.com reports.
“This was our last current project in Syria, and we had done actually a series of projects - about six of them in Syria - in different locations,” said the Rev. Columba Stewart, executive director of the Collegeville-based library.
However, HMML-trained technicians in Aleppo, Syria, were able to complete the digitization of 225 Armenian manuscripts belonging to the Armenian Orthodox Diocese of Aleppo - one of the largest Armenian collections in Syria.
“We began the work before the current turmoil in Syria, and this particular project was finished just as the situation started to get bad in Aleppo, which had been quiet until fairly recently,” Stewart said during a call from Bethlehem.
Aleppo’s Armenian community is ancient, dating from the days when Aleppo was a prominent trading center on the Silk Road. In the early 20th century, Armenian refugees fleeing genocide in Turkey found sanctuary with their compatriots in Aleppo.
“We also work on Islamic projects, so our interests transcend particular denominations or religious groups because all of this handwritten manuscript heritage is really the heritage of all humankind,” Stewart said.
HMML has now completed a series of projects in Aleppo that have included important collections belonging to the Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic and Greek-Catholic communities, for a total of 2,150 digitally preserved manuscripts.
“Many of these manuscripts represent communities persecuted, scattered and even destroyed in the tribulations of the last few centuries,” he said. “Their survival, and the care given them by the churches of the Middle East, is a testament to the profound meaning manuscripts have in the cultural memory of traditional communities.”
Adam McCollum is the lead cataloger of Eastern Christian manuscripts at HMML and will be responsible for getting the Armenian collection cataloged once it is at the HMML.
“Once the library has entered into a partnership with people who have collections of manuscripts, a studio is set up there with a digital camera, and entire manuscript collections are photographed and put onto hard drives and mailed back to us,” McCollum said.
One digital copy of the Armenian collection will stay with Bishop Shahan Sarkissian and the Armenian Orthodox Diocese of Aleppo. HMML will keep an additional digital copy of the collection in a highly secure location.
“The general populace in these places is still pretty safe - at least at this point - but we have no idea what’s going to happen in the future,” he said of HMML’s continuing work in Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, as well as in Ethiopia, southwest India and Malta.