Maxwell Institute teaming up with the Vatican Library to give online access to priceless Syriac texts

12.13.2013 | Blair Hodges

We live in perhaps the most archive-friendly moment in history . . . we have mushrooming digital compilations and ready access to documents of many flavors in unprecedented abundance.” —John Durham Peters, communications theorist

What a remarkable time; vast libraries can be held in the palm of a hand, while more documents become available by the day. As this video shows, the Vatican Apostolic Library is adding a host of priceless religious documents to this abundance. Their state-of-the-art digital imaging lab is currently working with Latin, Greek, and Hebrew manuscripts, as well as important incunabula (books printed before 1501). The first fruits of their work are already available herehere, and here (also see the news reports here and here).

These efforts are the result of a strategic partnership the Vatican Library forged with the University of Heidelberg and the University of Oxford in an ambitious project to make all of its collections available online. We’re pleased to announce that BYU’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute is joining this project. The Maxwell Institute has entered a formal partnership with the Vatican Library to provide digital access to priceless Vatican-owned Syriac manuscripts.

Beginning in January 2014, the Vatican Library will add eighty Syriac manuscripts to their workflow. It is anticipated that these Syriac manuscripts will be digitized in the first half of the year to be available online in the fall of 2014. The online publications will be supplemented by a state-of-the-art manuscript catalogue, as well as additional new studies on the manuscripts, their acquisition history, and the texts they contain. A list of the manuscripts can be found on the website of the Institute’s Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts.

CPART director Dr. Kristian Heal, who will lead this research and cataloging project, says these manuscripts provide scholars with incredible access to ancient Christian thought and experience:


“Among these eighty manuscripts are hundreds of individual works by scores of ancient authors. What’s more, many of the manuscripts are the only known witness, or the most ancient witness, of the texts they contain. So these manuscripts dating from the sixth to the nineteenth century are invaluable for our study of the literature produced by this branch of the ancient Christian church. Even the manuscripts themselves are important for our understanding of scribal culture, as well as literary, intellectual, and religious history. To have these manuscripts available online will foster a whole new era of study on these important texts.”

As with the Oxford and Heidelberg project, the BYU-Vatican Library Syriac Manuscript project is made possible by generous donors to Brigham Young University. These donations not only support the digitizing work at the Vatican Library but also the work of cataloging and studying these important Syriac manuscripts.

You can follow these ongoing developments on CPART’s website and Facebook page.