to DACHS members Lustisha Piland and Buddy Ritter, St. Catherine's
librarian, Father Justin, is scheduled to speak at a special Society
presentation on November 9, 2017 at 7 p.m. in the Good Sam Auditorium.
He will provide some background about the monastery, which is over a
thousand years old, and about the collection of ancient documents he is
the guardian of.
The following images were found in the Library of Congress and consist
of photos taken about 100 years ago and two paintings from around 1840.
There is one current color image that is a panorama - it is the last
photo. As can be seen in the photos, the monastery is very
isolated. It is on the Sinai Peninsula and sits at the base of
Mount Sinai. It is controlled by the Eastern Orthodox Church and
is a World Heritage Site.
Here is a description of Father Justin and his work provided by Buddy Ritter:
As interest in access to the texts has grown, so has the impetus to
take new measures to document and preserve them. Making digital copies
for public use will help prevent regular handling of the originals
while also providing insurance in case the originals are damaged or
That is where Father Justin comes in. Working in an eight-by-eight-foot
plastic tent, he shoots images that practically replicate the originals
enabling scholars to see even the minutest details.
The camera, made by the Swiss company Sinar, faces a specially designed
cradle, a complicated contraption of aluminum bars and screws that
supports the manuscripts' bindings without allowing the book to open
more than 100 degrees. Two flashes with glass domes to remove harmful
ultraviolet light stand on separate tripods on either side of the
camera, and a computer screen and hard disk are nearby.
Because of Sinai's insidious granite dust, air in the tent is
constantly filtered. This dust ''would reduce some of the equipment to
a state of quite literally screeching inoperability in less than a
year,'' according to David Cooper, a British expert in digitizing
ancient manuscripts and an adviser on the St. Catherine's project.
Working alone, day and night, Father Justin's job requires meticulous
attention to detail, but it may also seem mind-numbing. ''This is a job
for a monk,'' he said, smiling, ''because it's this incredible
combination of monotony and attentiveness. It's like driving: very
boring, but at the same time you have to be very alert.''
Born in 1949 in El Paso, Father Justin grew up in a Baptist family that
worked in religious-book publishing. He joined them during summer
vacations, gradually learning about computers. While at the University
of Texas, he developed a passion for Byzantine history, and at 22
joined the Greek Orthodox Church. He entered a monastery in Brookline,
Mass., in 1974 and was put in charge of publishing the monastery's
books and periodicals, honing his computer skills.
In 1996 Father Justin left the Brookline monastery and showed up
unannounced at St. Catherine's with all his belongings to live an
isolated, spiritual existence, immersed in Byzantine history. He also
happened to arrive just as St. Catherine's was starting its
digitization program. ''You can see it as an amazing coincidence or you
can see it at a deeper level,'' said Father Justin, one of only two
non-Greeks among the 25 monks here.
Because St. Catherine's is so remote, the monastery's abbot, Archbishop
Damianos Sinaites (Sinaites, Greek for ''of Sinai,'' is the name taken
by all monks at the monastery) has encouraged the digitization project
as a way to share the manuscripts with scholars while also preserving
them. At a cost of around $50,000, donated by European and American
institutions and individuals, digitizing the manuscripts is part of a
comprehensive conservation program that involves conservators'
approving all manuscripts before they are photographed. Eventually some
of the work may also be put online.
The ultimate goal of St. Catherine's digitization project is to
photograph all 1.8 million pages in the monastery's manuscript
collection. But with Father Justin working alone, that will not be
accomplished in his lifetime. ''The product is good, but the rate of
progress is glacial,'' Mr. Cooper said. ''The equipment could become
outdated before it's done very much.''