03/13/2020, 15.39
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Custody to put online volumes covering 800 years of history that serve as cultural bridge

Some 250,000 images from historical, religious and cultural volumes are a "treasure" now accessible to everyone. For Fr Goh, they bear witness to "the cultural exchange with the Jewish and Muslim worlds” and to the Franciscan mission in the Holy Land. They represent dialogue through science, education and medicine. The most famous is a chorale donated by Henry IV of England.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – The ancient books of the Custody of the Holy Land will soon be available online, accessible to everyone, a real "treasure" made up of more than 250,000 images.

The project is not meant “to remember the past with nostalgia, but rather to ensure a future for the books kept on these increasingly technological shelves,” read the Custody’s website.

More than a thousand volumes, some ancient stored in the General Library of the Custody of the Holy Land will be remotely accessible.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Fr Lionel Goh (picture 2), director of the General Library of the Custody of the Holy Land, said that "the preservation of manuscripts and books" is important "not only for the content" but also for “cultural exchange with the Jewish and Muslim world”.

It allows us to reconstruct "the ties of the past 800 years”. In spite of religious and political conflicts in the Holy Land, these volumes "bear witness to dialogue through science, education, medicine”.

In a certain way, “these books and manuscripts come to define our Christian character in the Holy Land" as a "devout" people linked to prayer, Fr Goh explained.

Christians are “compassionate people who take care of the elderly and the sick", making a great contribution "in education and training of skilled workers”.

Last but not least, they do great work as "mediators of peace between the West and the Middle East.

For Fr Goh, “These books are truly a bridge between cultures, peoples, space and time” what is more, “this project is important because our manuscripts go back from the 12th to the 18th century and the have suffered damage from time and use.”

“To preserve them, we had to capture the images now, before they vanished.” Indeed, they are "unique" manuscripts.

Many of them are "handwritten and unique in the world,” including the oldest liturgical texts "used by the first Franciscans of the Holy Land,” the most famous one being a chorale in three volumes (originally six) donated by King Henry IV of England.

Still others are volumes on "spirituality" used by the friars in the past and "Sermons of the Church Fathers", as well as "scientific manuscripts and books on medicine and grammar".

Many of these have added value because "they testify to the life and mission of the Franciscans in the Holy Land for the past 800 years”. They constitute “a bridge between peoples and cultures".

Christian Media Center project manager Ewa Dalicka-Witakowska explains that these are texts of a different nature: from history books to works on theology, including religious poetry and texts dedicated to travel and pilgrimages, as well as miscellaneous documents.

The books come in 18 Eastern and European languages, such as Arabic, Armenian, Coptic, English, Ethiopian, French, German, Greek, Italian, Latin, and Turkish.

Ph.D. candidate Justyna Kurowska has done painstaking work, leafing through the books page by page and getting the photographer to take a picture of each, analysing every image and then putting them together in a single file that contains the entire volume.

For some texts, the operation was simple, but for others it was more complicated and required more time and care.

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

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