The Foundation’s most important project is to secure the future of the manuscripts in the Deir al-Surian Library.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a great quantity of Deir al-Surian manuscripts were taken to Europe and are, today, held in several important collections, including the British Library and the Vatican Library. The large number of manuscripts and fragments that remain in the monastery represent an inheritance of inestimable scholarly value and remain an essential part of the heritage of the entire Christian world.
However, after fifteen hundred years in the environment of a living monastic community, many of the manuscripts are in a parlous state and continue to deteriorate, placing their very existence at risk.
During recent times there has been a revival of the Coptic monasteries in Egypt. The Deir al-Surian community now numbers over two hundred monks, and a new, committed and educated generation is determined to preserve this unique inheritance, in situ, for future generations.
In order to achieve this goal, Elizabeth Sobczynski, a conservation consultant working with major museums in London, founded The Levantine Foundation in 2002, which has, in the intervening years:
- Surveyed the collection and conserved over one hundred codices, in addition to three hundred fragments and singular manuscripts
- Built and opened, in 2013, a new library with modern storage and lecture facilities, including reading rooms, allowing access to the collection
- Created an on-site conservation laboratory
- Worked to educate the monks and the local secular community
- Funded, in 2014, the cataloguing of the Syriac manuscripts by Sebastian Brock of the University of Oxford and Lucas van Rompay of Duke University in the United States
- Catalogued, between 2016 and 2019, the Ethiopic manuscripts within the frames of the BETA MASAHEFT project, of the Hiob Ludolf Centre for Ethiopic Studies, Hamburg University
However, the work remains pressing and the ongoing projects include:
- The digital recording and documenting of the collection to ensure its continuing survival and to facilitate access for scholars without continual handling.
- Conservation of the most important manuscripts
- Training of monks in collection care and record-keeping
- Training monks from other libraries and educating local people
- Cataloguing of the Coptic and Arabic manuscripts