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Hill Museum and Manuscript Library

Fr. Bartholomew digitizes a 14th century Gospel book at the ancient Monastery of Saint Macarius (Deir Abu Maqar), Egypt. Courtesy of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library

Digitizing Middle Eastern, African and Indian manuscripts

$7,000,000; 2011–2021

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In 1965, the Benedictine monks of Saint John’s Abbey founded Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML), dedicated to photographing, and preserving the record of, manuscript collections in monasteries and libraries in Europe and then Ethiopia. In 2003, with the launch of a project to digitize manuscripts from other Eastern manuscript traditions, both Christian and Islamic, HMML moved to digital technology.

Since 2003, HMML’s work has expanded to the Middle East, Africa and India. It has photographed 125,000 complete manuscripts capturing more than 40 million pages. The HMML database is  the world’s largest online collection of manuscripts.

We began to support Hill Museum and Manuscript Library’s work in the Middle East, Africa and India in 2011, just before dramatic events unfolded in the Middle East, causing an unprecedented rise in threats to cultural heritage.  The HMML worked in Syria well into 2012, digitizing Christian Armenian and Arabic manuscripts in Aleppo. In Iraq, the HMML worked in Mosul, until the city and the region were taken over by DAESH, at which point HMML’s digitization studio moved to Erbil, where most Christians had fled. Refugees rescued many of the region’s manuscript collections, but not all. Those lost include manuscripts from the 4th-century monastery of Mar Behnam in Northern Iraq, destroyed by DAESH in 2015. HMML’s 2012 photographs are now most likely the only record of this collection.

Learn more about our cultural grants.

  • Scenes from the Life of Christ in an Aleppo Armenian Manuscript. Courtesy of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library
  • Book of the Gospels, portrait of St. Mark the Evangelist, from an early 16th century manuscript of the Armenian Orthodox Diocese of Aleppo, Syria. Digitized by HMML in 2011, just before the outbreak of the war. Courtesy of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library