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World's oldest missing pages

04 March 2008

Monastery of the Syrians

Experts in the study of late antiquity at Cardiff University have welcomed the discovery of what has been described as "the world's oldest missing pages"

National and international press coverage has brought to public notice spectacular recent finds at Deir al-Surian (‘The Monastery of the Syrians’) in Egypt.

The monastery was the source in the nineteenth century of the British Library’s renowned collection of ancient Syriac manuscripts. It had been supposed that by the end of that century all the old manuscripts once there had been taken to European libraries, the majority to London by Lord Curzon and Dr Henry Tattam.

However, a substantial fresh hoard has recently been discovered during reconstruction work on the monastery’s ancient tower. Many of the London codices are incomplete, including one of 411 AD which is the world’s oldest dated Christian manuscript, the last page of which has now been identified among the new discoveries.

Researchers in the School of Religious & Theological Studies’ Centre for Late Antique Religion and Culture are working on, and have published texts based on, the manuscripts in London on subjects as diverse as Gospel commentaries, Syriac versions of Greek theological texts, translations of Aristotle, treatises on Aristotelian logic and physics, and works on rhetoric. In many cases these manuscripts are incomplete. Abbot Joseph of Deir el-Surian with Dr Rachel King of Cardiff University

Dr John Watt, School of Religious & Theological Studies, said "Finding ancient manuscripts under the floor is usually the stuff of fiction, but this is fact. The new finds raise the possibility both of filling in some of the manuscript gaps, and of significant new insights in the study of late antiquity."

Funds for building a state-of-the-art library at the monastery to preserve the new finds are being raised by the Levantine Foundation, and a catalogue of the collection is currently in preparation.