The Inscription on the Box

The wooden box given by Agnes Smith Lewis in 1893 for the protection of Sinai Syriac 30 has a silver plate set into the centre of the lid. The inscription, engraved in Greek majuscule, was composed by Charles Walter Moule, who succeeded Agnes’s husband Samuel Savage Lewis as librarian of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

She herself provided a translation of the inscription in her book, In the Shadow of Sinai:

The four Holy Gospels in Syriac

Agnes, the foreigner, has given this casket for the Sacred Scriptures, not without gratitude, to the famous monks

Agnes Smith Lewis

The silver hallmarks. The first bears the initials of the silversmiths, Richard Martin and Ebenezer Hall. The second, a crown, is the symbol for Sheffield. The third, a lion passant guardant, attests to the purity of the silver. The fourth, the letter Z, is the date stamp for 1892.

The Wooden Box

Upon her return to Cambridge in 1893, after her second visit to Sinai, Agnes Smith Lewis commissioned a mahogany box to further protect Syriac 30, the Sinai Syriac palimpsest.

Agnes wrote a book, In the Shadow of Sinai, published in 1898, in which she herself described the box:

I had sent out a box in 1893 for the safe-keeping of the manuscript. It was made of Spanish mahogany, lined with cedar, and was ornamented with a variety of crosses and Catherine wheels. It had two lids, the inner one of glass so as to admit of its contents being shown without their being handled, and the outer one of wood surmounted by a silver plate bearing an inscription, in Greek uncials, composed by Mr. Charles Moule, of Corpus Christi College.

Amidst the tracery of the carved wood-work are various little holes, designed to allow the free passage of air without dust, through the box.

Mrs Bensley’s Silk Cover

In 1892, Agnes Smith Lewis and her twin sister Margaret Dunlop Gibson visited Sinai, to study the Syriac and Arabic manuscripts. Syriac 30 is a palimpsest, where the original writing was erased, and a second text written over the first. The upper writing contains the lives of women saints, written in the year 778. The underlying text contains the Gospels in the Old Syriac version, a translation made towards the end of the second century.

The following year, the twins returned, accompanied by Professor and Mrs Robert Bensley, and Professor and Mrs Francis Burkitt, together with J Rendel Harris, to try to decipher the faint underlying text of this manuscript.

While they were there, Mrs Bensley created a silk cover for the manuscript. She used a scarf that had belonged to her son, who had died. The cover was thus a work of devotion, a cover for the precious manuscript, and a memorial to her son.

It is embroidered with the words, ΕΥΑΓΓΕΛΙΟΝ CΥΡΙΑΚΟΝ ΠΑΛΙΜΨΗCΤΟΝ 30, ‘Syriac Gospel Palimpsest 30’.

The silk cover is no longer used to protect the manuscript, which is on display in the monastery treasury. But it has been carefully preserved in the archives to this day.

Bell Tower at Dusk

The bell tower at dusk, with the smaller cross back in place.

Constantine and Helen

Michael was also able to reattach the missing figure flanking the cross at the west end of the basilica.

Cross on the Bell Tower

Michael the Russian has worked as a guide for trekking into the high mountains of Kyrgyzstan. With his advanced rope climbing skills, we were able to replace the cross on the front right corner of the bell tower.

View from a Cave

The monastery and garden, viewed from beneath an overhanging granite boulder that forms a primitive cave shelter.

The Classic View

The classic view of the monastery far below in the morning sunlight, flanked by mountains on either side, as pilgrims descend the Steps of Repentance.

Sacrifice of Isaac

A fresco in the chapel at the peak depicting the Sacrifice of Isaac.

And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. (Genesis 22:7-8)

Apse Fresco

The fresco in the apse depicts the Virgin Mary of the Burning Bush, with the Prophet Moses removing his shoes on the left, and receiving the Tablets of the Law on the right. Below are icons of the twelve Apostles.

Στάμνον σε χρυσῆν, καὶ πλάκα καὶ τράπεζαν, προδιεγράψατο, Μωϋσῆς Πανάμωμε, καὶ βάτον Κόρη ὅλην πυράφλεκτον· ὧν νῦν ἡμεῖς τὴν ἔκβασιν πιστῶς θεώμενοι, Θεοτόκον εὐσεβῶς δοξάζομεν, ὡς Θεὸν τῶν ἁπάντων γεννήσασα.

Moses wrote of thee beforehand as the golden vessel and the tablets and the table, O All-blameless one, and as the bush wholly unconsumed by fire, O Maiden; wherefore now, beholding the fulfilment with faith, we piously glorify the Theotokos who gave birth to the God of all.

Both now of the second canon of the Ninth Ode of Matins in the service to Moses the God-seer, Περιγραφὴ τοῦ Θεοβαδίστου Ὄρους Σινᾶ (Venice: Nicholas Glykis, 1817), p. 52.