Recovering hidden texts at the world’s oldest monastery Saint Catherine’s

At the world’s oldest monastery St Catherine’s, new technology is making long-lost manuscripts available to anyone with an Internet connection.


St. Catherine’s Monastery was built at the foot of Mt. Sinai in the 6th century on the orders of the Byzantine emperor Justinian. Over time it became an important destination for Christian pilgrims. Monks have lived within its walls ever since, and still welcome travelers. 

Sometime in the eighth century, a monk at St. Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula was preparing to transcribe a book of the Bible in Arabic and needed fresh parchment. New parchment was an expensive commodity at the time and was difficult to obtain, especially for a humble monk copyist living in a remote desert monastery. Luckily for him, the venerable religious community had a massive library that included books that were no longer in use. These manuscripts, some written in extinct languages, or thought to be unimportant, were valued only for their potential as sources of recycled parchment. No one in the monastery would have thought twice, for instance, when, while searching for writing material, the monk plucked out of the collection an ancient Greek text that had gone unread for a generation or more. None of his brothers would have batted an eye as he used a knife to carefully scrape away the centuries-old ink. Soon, the words were gone and the parchment was ready for the monk’s fresh transcription of Bible verses. Today, erasing an ancient text seems an incalculable loss, but to the eighth-century scribe, it was an act of devotion and even a measure of progress—an obsolete text was gone, and a holy manuscript that would enrich countless spiritual lives was left in its place.

 

The Sinai Palimpsest Project’s spectral imaging system is equipped with a high-resolution camera and a custom cradle that holds manuscripts as they are subjected to four separate imaging techniques. 

The original words on this reused text, or palimpsest, have been lost for over a thousand years. But now with the help of modern multispectral imaging technology, a team of scientists and scholars is able to peer through the manuscript’s visible ink and read the long-vanished text below. The library at St. Catherine’s contains well over a hundred such palimpsests, each one offering vivid new glimpses of the early Christian era. Later this year, after a large number of the palimpsests have been studied and translated by specialists, the monastery will make them available online, meaning that texts that have gone unread for a millennia can be pored over by scholars and interested laypeople from all over the world. “These are cultural treasures that are important to our common history,” says Michael Phelps, executive director of the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library, which works with the UCLA Library to coordinate the project. “We’re helping recover lost communities that made important spiritual and literary contributions, and allowing their voices to speak again.”


A fragment of a reused parchment, or palimpsest, covered with medieval Greek writing (left) shows faint traces of a text lying beneath. Multispectral imaging of the parchment (right) shows that the erased text, in red, is 1 Corinthians, transcribed in the 5th century.

Tucked into a valley at the foot of Mt. Sinai, the fortified monastery of St. Catherine’s was built in the sixth century on the orders of the Byzantine emperor Justinian. Known officially as the Imperial Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount Sinai, St. Catherine’s is located on an especially holy site, where God was thought to have spoken to Moses through the burning bush. Archaeologist Peter Grossman of the German Archaeological Institute Cairo has conducted a survey of the site, and notes that thanks to its six-foot-thick granite walls that rise some 30 feet, the monastery was never destroyed, and so retains architecture from all phases of its development (including a small chapel that was converted into a mosque in the tenth century and is still used for special occasions). “St. Catherine’s is better preserved than other monasteries,” says Grossman. “Even the iron fittings of the doors in its walls and the original wooden gate of the main entrance are still in situ.” Over the centuries, the monastery attracted a steady stream of pilgrims who came to visit the holy sites around Mt. Sinai. They were welcomed and sheltered by a small community of monks who led lives of contemplation and prayer in the midst of the biblical landscape of the Sinai wilderness. Today, St. Catherine’s is the world’s oldest continually occupied monastery, and is home to around 25 Greek Orthodox monks, who observe rites that have continued uninterrupted within its walls for 15 centuries.

 

St. Catherine’s librarian Father Justin gingerly turns the page of a palimpsest undergoing multispectral imaging.



The monastery has a rich collection of icons and other religious objects, but it is most famous for its library, which, with more than 3,300 manuscripts, is second only to that of the Vatican in terms of the number of ancient texts it contains. While the Vatican library was assembled carefully over the centuries, St. Catherine’s collection is different, more eclectic. “The Sinai library differs from most libraries in that it grew organically to provide the monks with copies of the scriptures and books that would inspire and guide them in their dedication,” says Father Justin, who serves as the monastery’s librarian. Many of the monks and pilgrims who came to the monastery over the centuries left manuscripts as gifts, resulting in an especially idiosyncratic collection. In addition to important Christian texts, the library contains, for instance, one of the world’s earliest known copies of the Iliad.

Father Justin began a program of digitizing the monastery’s collection in the late 1990s. He knew, however, that he was unable to make a record of some of the most intriguing texts in the collection. Since the late nineteenth century, scholars had been aware that many of the works in the collection are palimpsests that conceal older texts (see “The Bible Hunters”). Over the years, scholars were able to read three of the palimpsests that were legible, but the vast majority remained invisible to the naked eye and went unstudied. In 1996, a Georgian scholar used ultraviolet light to read a Sinai palimpsest with an overtext in medieval Georgian. He found that the underlying text was written in Caucasian Albanian, and was the first example of a text written in this now-extinct language. It was an exciting discovery, but the process had drawbacks. “Prolonged use of ultraviolet light is a risk to both the eyesight of the scholar and the manuscript itself,” says Father Justin. The technique just wasn’t a practical way to read the library’s palimpsests.


Before multispectral imaging, writing on a medieval Arabic manuscript (top) concealed a full-page illustration of a medicinal herb (above) dating to the 5th century.

Father Justin learned of an ambitious scientific and scholarly effort under way from 1998 to 2008 to use multispectral imaging technologies to read the Archimedes Palimpsest, a tenth-century copy of the great Greek philosopher’s writings that had been overwritten by thirteenth-century Christian monks. He contacted the team decoding the Archimedes Palimpsest, and soon many of the scientists involved in the project agreed to again pool their resources to read the Sinai palimpsests. Organization of the project fell to Phelps and the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library, which uses digital technology to make ancient manuscripts available online to both scholars and the general public.

In 2011, the Sinai Palimpsest Project began imaging some of the 130 manuscripts in St. Catherine’s library that had been identified as palimpsests. Over the course of five years, the team visited the monastery 17 times. Before each session, University of Vienna medievalist Claudia Rapp, the project’s scholarly director, would consult with Father Justin, and together they would select important palimpsests suitable for multispectral imaging. The team would then subject each page to four state-of-the-art technologies. One method developed specifically for the project involves backlighting each page with multiple wavelengths that reveal where the ink of the undertext had eroded the parchment.

These images, once processed and viewed in combination, render long-lost words legible. The Sinai Palimpsest Project has now imaged some 6,900 pages, collecting an unprecedented amount of data on these formerly illegible or invisible manuscripts. “I call this process the archaeology of the page,” says Rapp. “Except as we dig we don’t destroy the layers that lie above, and we’re still able to make things visible that have been hidden for centuries.”

The effort is already giving the team new insight into the role St. Catherine’s played in the medieval world. While it is one of the world’s most famous Christian sites, scholars have an incomplete picture of it during this period. “The history of St. Catherine’s from the seventh to the eleventh centuries is little known,” says Rapp. “The palimpsests dating to this period give us a new picture of the role the monastery played in the Christian world.” The diversity of languages found in the palimpsests, a total of 10, show that pilgrims came to St. Catherine’s from all over the Middle East and Europe. In addition to more text in Caucasian Albanian, the team has discovered palimpsests in Ethiopic, Slavonic, Armenian, and, importantly, in Latin, some written in a style that was popular in Anglo-Saxon monasteries. “We were surprised by the number of Latin texts,” says Rapp. St. Catherine’s is an Orthodox monastery and was previously not thought to have had strong links to the Latin-speaking Catholic Christian world. But the palimpsests show that a number of pilgrims from Western Europe, perhaps from as far away as Britain, made the trek to the monastery and left behind manuscripts that were then recycled.

For Rapp, another significant discovery the project has made is that a number of palimpsests were written in a dialect of Aramaic known as Christian Palestinian Aramaic. This language vanished in the thirteenth century, and is poorly understood, largely because so few texts are known, making the discovery of these palimpsests especially exciting for scholars. “We have increased the number of known Christian Palestinian Aramaic texts by 30 percent,” says Rapp. “I have a colleague preparing a grammar of the language, and she’s very grateful she didn’t publish it before we found these palimpsests.”

The content of the palimpsests also offers a look at the diversity of manuscripts that were available to monks in the early medieval period. Some of the palimpsests contain biblical texts such as fifth- and sixth-century versions of Corinthians and the book of Numbers, but they also hold a number of secular works that monks could have consulted. The team has identified a variety of medical writings, including a treatise on medicinal plants, which contains a treatment for scorpion stings, the earliest surviving texts of Hippocratic medical works, and a previously unknown version of a list of medical terms.



A medieval document (top) in Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic, was written on top of a 9th-century Syriac translation (above, in black) of an ancient Greek medical text.

Those works hint at how the monks may have understood and treated illnesses, a very practical dimension of their lives, but the team has also found evidence that at least some monks could have relied on the library for pleasure reading. They have identified a palimpsest containing the illustrated version of a secular fictional work, the oldest known non-biblical illustrated manuscript, perhaps suggesting that monks may have not confined themselves to religious reading.

Soon one of the palimpsests may even allow the team an intimate glimpse of the monks’ spiritual lives. In it they have discovered musical notations, likely for a liturgical chant, which are still being studied. Once they are deciphered, the team may be able to recapture the sounds of one of the ancient chants that were such an integral part of religious services at the monastery.

 Twenty-three scholars are currently at work translating the palimpsests, but enough have been studied that it is now clear that St. Catherine’s library is the world’s richest source of Christian palimpsests. And the project has helped Father Justin and the monks of St. Catherine’s not just to recover lost history, but also to celebrate their faith. “The manuscripts are an inspiration to the monks who live here today,” says Father Justin, who finds the discovery of the Latin texts, in particular, very significant. “They show that there was travel and communication between East and West, at a time when scholars have presumed great isolation. This is an important example for our own times.”
 
Thus far the team has imaged 75 of the manuscripts previously identified as palimpsests. In the process, Rapp has newly identified at least 30 more palimpsests in the collection. She believes that still more of the books in St. Catherine’s library may have been written on reused parchment. There could be hundreds more palimpsests yet to be discovered, an invisible library that may hold as-yet-unknown biblical texts, or more manuscripts that illuminate medieval monastic life in this remote outpost of Christianity.

The Presidential Guard, Athens – The Evzones – Σώμα Ευζώνων – Προεδρική Φρουρά

The Evzones form the Presidential Guard, a battalion composed of 2 Evzone companies and 1 command company. They operate out of the ” Georgios Tzavelas ” barracks (named to honor Georgios Tzavelas, a chieftain and hero of the Greek Revolution of 1821) on ” Herodou Attikou ” Street, just behind the Parliament building.

The Guard takes precedence in all military parades. Their march style consists of normal march time, and at intervals, for several paces, striking the ground forcefully with the right foot. Their standard marching music is the ” Evzonaki ” (“little Evzone”) ( Greek: Ευζωνάκι ) march, played at 48 beats/min. They guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier round the clock. Guards on duty perform their movements in a very slow and highly stylized manner. They switch positions with each other every fifteen minutes and remain completely motionless and at attention in the meantime. Since the Guards are required to be totally still at all times, there is one Evzone in normal fatigues uniform and police surveillance to ensure that no one approaches or harasses the Guards while on duty. The “little changes” take place every hour on the hour, and involve the two incoming and two outgoing sentries, and a supervising “Corporal of the Change”. The Grand Change takes place at 11 am on Sunday mornings, and involves the whole Guard with its officers and a military band, all marching from the Guard Barracks to the Tomb for the Change, and back. The Grand Change is a popular Sunday morning spectacle for Athenians and tourists alike.

Όλες οι αποστολές σήμερα της Προεδρικής Φρουράς έχουν τελετουργικό χαρακτήρα. Η πιο χαρακτηριστική αποστολή είναι η φύλαξη του Μνημείου Αγνώστου Στρατιώτη, που βρίσκεται στην Βουλή στο κέντρο της Αθήνας.

Ενώ για όλα τα σώματα του Ελληνικού Στρατού η Κυριακή είναι μια μέρα ξεκούρασης και χαλάρωσης, για την Προεδρική Φρουρά είναι το αντίθετο.

Το πρόγραμμα ξεκινά με την έπαρση της σημαίας στον Βράχο της Ακρόπολης. Τιμητικό άγημα αποτελούμενο από σώμα Ευζώνων, από Αξιωματικό και Βρακοφόρο Κρητικό με την συνοδεία μπάντας εκτελούν την έπαρση της Σημαίας. Το ίδιο συμβαίνει και το απόγευμα όπου εκτελείται η υποστολή.

Περίπου στην 09:30 αρχίζει το τελετουργικό μέσα στο στρατόπεδο της Προεδρικής Φρουράς. Ένας Λόχος Ευζώνων σε παράταξη αποδίδει Τιμές στην Σημαία του Τάγματος την οποία φέρει Αξιωματικός της Φρουράς.

Έπειτα όλο το Άγημα κατευθύνεται στο Μνημείο Του Αγνώστου Στρατιώτη μέσω της οδού Β. Σοφίας. Το ένα ρεύμα της οδού κλείνει και το θέαμα με το άγημα να κατηφορίζει την οδό είναι μοναδικό. Κόσμος σταματά και με δέος παρακολουθεί τους Εύζωνες να παρελαύνουν σε επιβλητικό σχηματισμό. Η Πλατεία Συντάγματος είναι γεμάτη από τουρίστες που παίρνουν θέση για να παρακολουθήσουν την Επίσημη Αλλαγή. Η διαδικασία Αλλαγής είναι η ίδια με τις υπόλοιπες μέρες αλλά γίνεται πιο επιβλητική με την παρουσία ολόκληρου λόχου Ευζώνων και με τον τρόπο που γίνονται τα Βήματα της Αλλαγής.

Με το πέρας της Αλλαγής και το άκουσμα του Εθνικού Ύμνου το άγημα επιστρέφει στο στρατόπεδο με τον ίδιο τρόπο. Αξιοσημείωτο είναι ότι οι Εύζωνες που έχουν αναλάβει την υπηρεσία στο Μνημείο, από την στιγμή που θα ανέβουν στο Μνημείο και μέχρι να αποχωρήσει το Άγημα, βρίσκεται σε στάση « παρουσιάστε ».

Good news: Greece has finally made a decision on their Eurovision 2017 act

The even better news — they’ve announced that Demy, fan favourite and Greece’s two-time wiwivision representative, will represent them in Kyiv! Broadcaster ERT officially confirmed the news today after her selection was reported in news earlier today.

It seems many of the rumours over the last few weeks had some truth, too. A few weeks ago, reports suggested a video-clip national final would take place. This would be between Demy and the group Stereo Soul, with the two acts fighting for thr ticket to Kyiv.This seems to be what will happen after all, except Demy will be the only candidate. This means that the public will get to decide which song she will sing in Kyiv, according to ERT’s official press release. Demy has three English language songs which she will perform in the national final. The winning song will be selected by 100% televote.

Another rumour was that Demy has been working with Eurovision giants Dimitris Kontopoulos and Fokas Evangelinos. The duo have been involved with plenty of top-10 entries, including Sergey Lazarev and Helena Paparizou.

Once again, that has proved to be correct. The press release states that Kontopoulos has written all three national final songs for Demy, while Evangelinos will take care of the staging. We get the feeling this could be a Greek dream team!

It seems ERT have learned from their mistakes and want to get their Eurovision glory back. With Demy they’ve got a great, popular young singer and a strong team behind her. Greece are sending out the message — they want their Eurovision crown back!

So what do you think: is Demy a good choice from Greece? Do you think that Greece can make it two wins in a row in Kyiv? Let us know in the comments section below!

When he was just a young gun: Poems written by an 11-year-old George Michael are uncovered by his primary school classmate

Poems written by Wham! singer George Michael when he was just 11 years old have been unearthed by an old primary school classmate. 

Penny Ling, 51, went to school with the-then Georgios Panayiotou and the pair would often play childish games together with other children on an estate in north London.

The pair met at the Roe Green Junior School in Kingsbury and it seems the songwriter penned a number of poems in 1974. 

Ms Ling found the two poetic rhymes in her school yearbook by chance and kept it a secret for almost 20 years. 


Penny Ling (pictured) went to school with the-then Georgios Panayiotou at the Roe Green Junior School in Kingsbury, north London

She has now lifted the lid on the poems after his tragic death at his home in Goring-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, on Christmas Day last year.

The two poems ‘sounds in the night’ and ‘the story of a horse’ provide an insight into the young child who went onto to become the world famous pop star.

Even at the tender age of eleven, Michael showed signs of a future lyrical genius through his use of rhythm, emotion and words. 

The revelation comes weeks after the singer was tragically found dead at his Goring-on-Thames home on Christmas Day after suspected heart failure, aged just 53.

Ms Ling, who now lives in Faringdon, Oxfordshire, and her sister both went to school with Michael and she was a couple of years below and her sister was in a class with the singer’s sister Melanie.

She first came across the poems after her sister saw the Careless Whisper singer at an awards ceremony in the late 1980s.

It prompted Ms Ling to browse through her old yearbook where amazingly she stumbled across the two poems signed Georgios Panayiotou.

She said: ‘My sister had recognised his sister at an awards ceremony George Michael was attending, and came back and said “you will never guess who I met”.

‘I think she got his autograph. At the time my sister was a buyer at Tesco and she got taken to the ceremony by one of her customers.

‘When she told me, I then went to my 1974 yearbook and looked through it and lo and behold there were two poems from George Michael.


The Wham! singer wrote two poems when he just 11 years old and while he was a pupil at a school in north London 




The pair met at the Roe Green Junior School in Kingsbury and it seems the songwriter penned a number of poems in 1974



‘The whole school was represented in the book. It was published once a year.

‘The only people that know about it were friends of mine who were massive George Michael fans. I kept my yearbook locked away in a cupboard.

‘For an eleven-year-old I think the way it’s written is quite complex. He was a couple of years above me.

‘Back then we had the same teacher called Mr Ian Greenwood who taught creative writing. I wonder whether part of George’s significant writing ability stems from that class.’

Ms Ling was a few years below Michael when they both attended Roe Green Junior School in Kingsbury, north London.

But she would go round to a friend’s house who lived close to Michael’s family after school to play childish games on an estate with other children – where he would join in.

She added: ‘The reason I remember him is he lived at the back of my best friend’s house in Burnt Oak, London. The whole area was very multi-national.

‘George Michael’s family were not the only Cypriots living in that community, it was a real mixed bag.

‘I lived the opposite end of the school catchment area. I would go round to friend’s house maybe once a month.

THE STORY OF A HORSE 

Once there was a lonely horse, weeping on a stack of hay,

The gun was ready, the bullet was hot, the horse had broken a leg that day.

The dog was barking, the chickens were screaming, the cows were mooing, the sun was gleaming.

The farmer closed his eyes,

And dropped the gun, he hadn’t shot,

But the horse had run.

He ran through the streets,

With loud a sound,

And then he fell, upon the ground.

The townspeople said, that a horse that is lame,

Can never really be brought to the tame,

They said he was mad, that he should be slain

And never was he seen again.

Georgios Panayiotou




SOUNDS IN THE NIGHT 

Beyond the world of sight, there is a sixth dimension of sound, and in many cases, sound beats sight, and the reason?

Sight is blacked out by the night, and that is where sounds comes in.

It stands to reason that what you can’t see…. you can hear!

And the same applies for daytime, only in reverse.

In other words, what you can’t hear, you can see

And that is why I am turning the subject to night.

Now what I’ve forgotten to tell you, I’m sure something slipped my tongue.

Ah! Now I remember, you’ll never guess what I have to say to you…… I am blind!!!

Professor Whatsisname

(Alias G.Panayiotou) 



‘She lived in a cul-de-sac and over the back was a bit of wasteland and sometimes we would play in the cul-de-sac if we needed a hard surface – George Michael joined in.

‘We would play cowboys and indians, pogo-sticking – how long you could bounce on a stick without falling off – hopscotch, the usual kids games.’

Ms Ling said she knew Michael for around three years at school but never expected him to go on have the glittering career he will always be remembered for.

She added: ‘I probably knew him from about six to nine years old, so he would have been nine to eleven roughly.

‘I found him to be one of these people to be reasonable quiet and studious. He absorbed what was going on around him.

‘He was not a flash person or didn’t like to show off. He didn’t stand out as been exceptional or different. He was just like the rest of us.’