The ancient books of the Custody of the Holy Land: a treasure that will soon be online

250,000 is the number of photographs that are needed not so much to remember the past with nostalgia, but rather to ensure a future for the books kept on these increasingly technological shelves: these are the more than a thousand ancient volumes that can be found in the General Library of the Custody of the Holy Land in Jerusalem.

Fr. Lionel Goh, ofm
Director of the General Library - Custody of the Holy Land

Here are some of the ancient books, codices, and manuscripts we plan to digitize. Given the condition they are in, we must do so before they are completely destroyed by time and use.

"Digitization" is the keyword and the task entrusted to a team of experts - including photographers and curators - from Poland. In the last few weeks, the team has been completing a four-year project.

Ph.D. Justyna Kurowska
Ph.D. candidate

Basically, what I have to do is flip through this book and photograph it page by page...then I simply turn the book around, and we start shooting the other way around...the photographer next to me has to analyze each image, and then put them all together in a single file that contains the entire volume. Not all books are as easily photographed as this one. This other manuscript, for example, is much larger, so we have to do more operations.

Ph.D. Justyna Kurowska
Ph.D. candidate

Now the photographer is explaining to me what to do with the book, how to position it so that the page is clearly visible...he controls the result, I don't see anything.

The material must be handled with care, the fragile pages must be turned with care: the Franciscan friars have collected here books dating back to the 12th century, either handwritten or produced with the technique of mobile printing.

Prof. Ewa Dalicka-Witakowska
Project manager

There are different types of texts: books on history, theology, religious poetry...we have descriptions of journeys and pilgrimages, various documents...there really is everything.
They are written in 18 languages, oriental and European: Arabic, Ethiopian, Armenian, Turkish, Coptic...what else? European languages like Latin and Greek, but there are also Italian, French, English, German, and so on.

Prof. Ewa Dalicka-Witakowska
Project manager

This collection is really very valuable. They are antique books, some are decorated. They must be protected, but also accessible to the public.

From anywhere in the world it will take just a click to venture through the (virtual) pages of these books: for the moment thanks to the servers of the British Library - partner of the project -, although the property and related rights will remain with the Custody of the Holy Land.

Fr. Lionel Goh, ofm
Director of the General Library - Custody of the Holy Land

The treasure of the Custody will be open to all: everyone will be able to consult it online.

 

Christian Media Center