Stainless Steel
Boxing Project

Protecting ancient manuscripts for future generations 

The objective: To house 2,187 early parchment, Byzantine or Greek-style manuscripts in individual stainless-steel boxes for preservation and protection against the ravages of time, the arid conditions of the desert and the threat of natural disasters.

The Challenge

All 2,187 manuscripts have, until now, been stored vertically, but with the frailty of the manuscripts and their bindings horizontal storage is imperative to their long-term survival.
This storage requires more space, so we had to optimise the use of space within the library for the steel boxes, which together with their lining require much more space than the manuscripts, to be properly stored and indexed. In the Sinai desert, the temperature can fluctuate considerably between night and day.

This meant that the artefacts were subjected to severe changes in temperature, causing a great deal of stress.

The arid conditions of the desert and the presence of airborne particles of granite and silicone have taken their toll on the manuscripts over the years, so the stainless-steel boxes with almost hermetically closing seals, offer a much-needed protection against atmospheric contaminants.

What We Did

  • We removed and relocated a large water storage tank situated above the library, eliminating the risk of water damage.
  • We re-sited a gas-fired kitchen originally positioned below the library to a different part of the monastic campus, upgrading it to an electric kitchen.
  • We created a temporary storage space, according to stringent specifications, to host the manuscripts, safely wrapped and barcoded, whilst the library was being refurbished. We then refurbished the library including structural reinforcement, introducing innovative internal insulation to deliver passive climatic control to stabilise the environment inside the library.
  • We then installed a state-of-the-art fire detection system which combined with a non-distractive fire extinguishing system, which deploys inert gasses to purge oxygen and starve the fire, would deal effectively with a fire without causing “lateral” damages.
  • We introduced a CCTV surveillance system to support the protection of the contents of the library.
  • We then installed an optimal storage configuration to enable us to store 2,187 manuscripts, papyri and numerous old significant printed books horizontally.
  • The father’s cells below the library had to be evacuated during the latter’s refurbishment, so 13 abandoned cells had to be refurbished to house the monks whilst work was ongoing.
  • The fire defence system in the rest of the monastery had to be upgraded to protect the library from fires in the surrounding buildings.
  • This was supplemented by drilling new bore holes outside of the Justinian walls to ensure that there was sufficient water to douse any potential fire.

Only once all this had been done could we even begin to source stainless steel boxes and move the manuscripts from their temporary storage home into their new boxes and back to their rightful positions within the library.

Then the stainless-steel boxes had to be designed and commissioned. With acid-free card lining and activated carbon cloth the packaging was designed to protect from off-gassing, ‘blunting’ the impact of any ambient temperature and humidity changes. The manuscripts are then sandwiched within an inert foam lining to protect from knocks and bumps and to hold the contents in place.
The boxes were designed to open flat to eliminate the risk of tipping and preserve the integrity of the ancient papers as they are accessed and moved, as well as whilst in storage.

The Outcome

Already the ancient manuscripts are substantially safer than they were, particularly from the risk of fire and water damage, and there is now space for them to be stored horizontally within the library. However, the Stainless-Steel Boxing Project has only just begun. The stainless-steel boxes are being made in Greece, and then shipped to Sinai. With each box costing £850, we are ordering the boxes in batches as we manage to raise sufficient funds to protect as many manuscripts as we can as quickly as possible. We have already boxed a number of manuscripts, but there are still plenty to go, so we welcome donations of any value that will help us to guarantee the long-term protection of these historic artefacts.

Because donations are so essential to the completion of this project and the protection of these artefacts, the names of donors will be inscribed within the library forever, as a thank you to those who have made this important piece of preservation possible.

Make a donation

Whether you feel passionate about safeguarding the Monastery and those who live within its walls from the threat of fire, or you wish to contribute to the ongoing preservation of the second most significant collection of Christian manuscripts in the world, you can ensure that 100% of your donation goes to the cause you most believe in.

Become a Friend

Support us by becoming a member. Become a Friend, a Donor, or even a Benefactor and make a difference to the Saint Catherine Foundation projects that will continue to deliver benefits far into the future and well beyond this generation. In return, you’ll be one of the first to know about the dynamic and exciting projects taking place at the Monastery.

Buy from our shop

You’ll find Christmas cards, fascinating books on the Monastery and its artefacts, tote bags and more in our online shop. 

All of the profits go directly to one of the many projects that we are raising funds for at any one time. By buying something from our shop, you make an essential contribution to the preservation, protection and dissemination of St Catherine’s Monastery and the irreplaceable artefacts that belong there.

Subscribe to our newsletter and help us protect one of the largest and most important collections of Christian manuscripts in the world.

Our Projects

  • Fire Safety Project

    Since 2019, the installation of a water-operated firefighting system across the Monastery campus has been ongoing.
  • South Range Project

    The original layout of the library was reconfigured with improved structural strength, state-of-the-art security and safety systems, inbuilt passive climatic control, making the best use of the available space.
  • East Wing Cells Project

    Originally dating from the 13th and 14th centuries, the cells situated along the Monastery’s East Wing were built of earth and timber which had deteriorated over time.
  • Printed Books Survey

    Specialist conservators have been using pioneering digital technology to prioritise and manage the future conservation of the Monastery’s historic collection of early printed books.
  • Water Wells Project

    The original water reserve situated above the library held insufficient water to deliver an effective fire response, for the new water-powered fire protection system.
  • Manuscript Survey

    Specialist conservators from around the world assessed 3,306 manuscripts to enable conservation to be scheduled according to need and significance.
  • Archbishop Porphyrios III Library Project

    Noted scholar, Archbishop Porphyrios III, held a substantial library with books dating back to the 15th century.
  • Kitchen Project

    In 2004, the old gas-fired kitchen, located immediately below the library, was dismantled, and moved to a new position in the eastern quarter of the Monastery, reducing the risk of damage by fire.
  • Design of conservation

    The creation of specialist areas equipped with the correct technology and tools for ongoing conservation and digitisation minimises the risk in transporting books and manuscripts during the conservation process.
  • Cell 31A Project

    In 2003, a set of manuscript fragments were discovered glued to the wall in cell 31A.
  • Achtinames Project

    The Achtiname, which, according to legend, was gifted by the Prophet Muhammad to the Monastery in the 7th century, grants the Fathers special privileges and protection.
  • Water Storage Project

    In 1999, the Monastery’s water tank was relocated to a new site outside of the Monastery’s walls, removing the risk of flooding.
  • Codex Sinaiticus Project

    In 1975, renovation works following an earthquake led to the discovery of 12 complete leaves and more than 20 fragments of the Codex Sinaiticus, the oldest surviving copy of the Bible.
  • Stainless Steel Boxing Project

    This ongoing project will protect 2,187 manuscripts from further damage and pigment loss, which can be caused by the dry and dusty Sinai environment.
  • Arts Collaboration

    Since the inception of the Saint Catherine Foundation, we’ve supported a wide range of cultural, historical and conservational activities to protect, promote and share the insights provided by Saint Catherine’s Monastery and the library that is houses.

    Subscribe to our newsletter and help us protect one of the largest and most important collections of Christian manuscripts in the world.

    The Saint Catherine Foundation

    ©The Saint Catherine Foundation. All rights reserved. The Saint Catherine Foundation is a registered charity in England and Wales (Charity Number 1053138). We are also a company limited by guarantee (Company Number 3091163).