Presenting the Holy Treasures of the Sinai at the Beginning of the Twenty-First Century
For more than sixteen hundred years, the monks have carefully used and preserved, as central to their religious life, the icons, vestments, manuscripts, liturgical objects, and other treasures in their possession
For more than sixteen hundred years, the monks at Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai, Egypt, have carefully used and preserved, as central to their religious life, the icons, vestments, manuscripts, liturgical objects, and other treasures in their possession.
Originally either donated to, or acquired by the Holy Monastery for their spiritual significance, these works are also now recognized as one of the world’s most important treasures of Christian art, especially that of the Orthodox world.
For many years the monks of Sinai have sought, and received, advice and support for the study and preservation of their holy treasures from scholars and institutions in many countries. In recent years, the Fathers have recognized the appropriateness of providing access to the works under their protection to ensure an understanding of Orthodox Christianity and the importance of their ancient site to the history of the faith.
The monastery, with the support of the Republic of Egypt, first sent works outside its walls when it participated in the Exhibition “The Glory of Byzantium: Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era (843-1261)” held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1997. The profound public response to the monastery’s icons and manuscripts encouraged the Brotherhood to permit works to travel to subsequent exhibitions in other countries, including Greece, Russia, Italy and the United Kingdom.
The monks of Sinai recognized that their treasures were meaningful to the public for their aesthetic and historical context as well as for their religious significance. They decided that the most important of their treasures should be made newly accessible to visitors to the Holy Monastery as part of their restoration of the Sacristy. They have also sought to have the new installation represent the highest standards of conservation and installation to ensure the protection and understanding of the objects for the years to come.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art was honored to be asked by the Brotherhood of Sinai and the Costopoulos Foundation to advise on the selection of the works of art to be displayed and their proper installation in the New Sacristy. Philippe de Montebello, Director, was pleased to put the Museum’s experts in many fields, including directorial, curatorial, conservation, design, construction, and lighting, at the disposal of the Holy Monastery as well as the other consultants appointed by the Holy Monastery for the project.
In suggesting the most important works for the display, the Metropolitan Museum has sought to provide an awareness of the artistic and cultural heritage of the monastery and its spiritual importance. The works were selected based on the research done by many scholars. The Greek scholars on the Scholarly Committee, drawing on their years of work with the Monastery’s treasures, have confirmed the selection of works for display and provided the catalogue and label information.
Recognizing the incalculable importance of the Sinai Treasures, the Metropolitan Museum’s experts encouraged the use of sophisticated cases from Germany in the New Sacristy as they are considered by museum professionals to be the finest for the long term protection and preservation of works of art. The Costopoulos Foundation generously funded them ensuring the lasting security of the treasures of Sinai as they are presented to the public. The Museum has also provided lighting for the New Sacristy in accord with the highest standards of conservation and installation.
Above all, the New Sacristy project represents the foresight and vision of Archbishop Damianos of Sinai during his time as abbot of the holy monastery and of the monks who have supported him. It is hoped that the new installation of works from the monastery’s holy treasures will enable pilgrims and visitors to understand the importance of its treasures while maintaining the Brotherhood’s understanding of the works as part of the spiritual life of the sacred site. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is proud and grateful to have had the opportunity to support the Holy Monastery’s efforts to present its holy treasures in a manner befitting the beginning of the twenty-first century.