The Fate of the White Monastery Library

Gawdat Gabra and Hany N. Takla

in Christianity and Monasticism in Upper Egypt

Published by American University in Cairo Press

Published in print May 2008 | ISBN: 9789774161223
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9781617970450 | DOI:
The Fate of the White Monastery Library

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The library of the White Monastery, founded during the 4th century by Apa Pegol, an uncle of Shenoute, went through an outstanding period in the centuries that followed its creation. During the 14th century, however, the Arab occupation and the Mamluk attacks sounded the death knell for this bastion of Christian culture in Egypt. The manuscripts it contained were stored, under circumstances that still remain obscure, in hidden rooms from which they were only rescued after several centuries. In 1778 Cardinal Borgia purchased, without knowing their exact origin, a portion of more than 2,300 pages and fragments, today preserved in the libraries of Naples and Rome. For about fifty years a number of libraries of the world were able to purchase important collections of manuscripts without being able to determine their origin. This source seemed to have dried up until Gaston Maspero, in 1882 purchased from a dealer of Cairo some very beautiful pages that he bought for the Institut français d'archéologie orientale du Caire (IFAO). Among these pages were some whose writing was clearly evocative of those bought in the past by Cardinal Borgia. As a result, the origin of all these manuscripts acquired earlier was established. Analysis of letters received by Gaston Maspero, currently preserved in the Institut de France in Paris, has shed new light on the circumstances surrounding the discovery of these manuscripts by Maspero, and in particular their acquisition by the Bibliothéque nationale de France. This chapter attempts to summarize this history as it is described in this correspondence.

Keywords: Shenoute; White Monastery; library; Gaston Maspero; Cardinal Borgia

Chapter.  3553 words. 

Subjects: Christianity

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