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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.

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