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The Library 

 

A SHORT HISTORY OF THE LIBRARY OF THE GREEK ORTHODOX PATRIARCHATE OF ALEXANDRIA & ALL AFRICA

 The following article is taken from the Bulletin of the Patriarchal Library (January - June 1955) and was written by Theodoros Moschonas, who was Chief Librarian of the Patriarchal Library at the time.

 It summarizes some of the significant dates and events in the history of the Patriarchal Library up to and including the celebration in 1952 of the first thousand years of its existence.

 The Patriarchal Library is still in existence today and is housed within the buildings of the Patriarchate of Alexandria and all Africa in Mancheya, Alexandria.

 During and after the Hellenistic period, Alexandria boasted various magnificent monuments, among others the Library, “par excellence”. This Library, known as the “Mother Library”, situated in the Bruchium quarter of the city, as well as the “Daughter Library”, under the aegis of the Temple of Serapis in the Rhakotis native quarter of Alexandria, both disappeared.

Julius Caesar, although a learned man himself, was the first to destroy the “Mother Library” the remnants of which were transferred to the Serapeum.  After the edict of Theodosius I (389 AD) the “Daughter   Library” was burnt also.

 We must distinguish then between the Alexandrine Library and the Library from where such great learned men of the Church, as Origen, Clement, Pantaenus, Athanasius and Cyril, to speak of those before the Arab era, derived their learning.

The Partiarchal Library is the ‘remnant’ left of the illustrious Church Library which originated with the Christian Era.

 

This Library, which celebrated its first Millenary of reorganization in 1952, contains 23,746 volumes (Dec. 31 1955). It has various departments of Greek manuscripts (530), rare editions (2000) and other editions, not necessarily Greek or Theological in content.

 We find in the Library books printed in English, French, Latin, German and Arabic, even in Georgian and Armenian. The Patriarchal Archives have been kept in the Library since the 16th century along with 160 other Codici with unpublished sources of the history of the Church in Egypt.

 Over the last 14 years (1941-55) the Library has become known to the outside world thanks to the publication of its 3 volume catalogue and has opened its doors to the Egyptian public through the organization of lectures and exhibitions of its treasures. A bulletin of the Library has been published for the past eight years and in 1952 an Institute of Oriental Studies was founded in the Library.

From the foundation of the Church of Alexandria by Saint Mark the      Apostle and his martyrdom (AD 63) until the Arab conquest (AD 642) the Library was housed in the residence of each Patriarch in Alexandria: from the Church of “the bottle” where Arius preached to the Didascaleum, and from the Didascaleum to the Church of the Virgin, known also as the Church of Theonas. Under Athanaseus and Cyril the Library was installed near the Cathedral of the Caesareum where it remained until AD 642.

 642 - 727 Vacancy of the Patriarchal Throne. Fate of the Library unknown. The myth of the burning of the Ecclesiastical Library is absurd. The papyri and codici must have been evacuated by the Byzantines during the Eleven Month Armistice before the first taking of Alexandria by the Arabs.

 750 We find the Library, or a nucleus of the present Library, in the Caesarium. It was restored to the Orthodox Church under Patriarch Cosmo I.

840 Coptic Patriarch John VI comments that certain Greek manuscripts were still available “at the Alexandria Library”.

 940 The learned Eutychius Patriarch of Alexandria (933-940) known to the Arab world as Said Ebn Batriq, because he wrote his chronicles in Arabic, writes “I owe much to the books in the Library”. Eutychius was the first to reorganise the Library and gave it its present form as a Church Library within the Partiarchal residence.

952 The Millenary was celebrated in 1952 because the oldest manuscripts bear the date 952. There are no traces of manuscripts before the 10th century.

997 The Library is transferred to the new capital, Kahira (Cairo). Under Patriarch Elias, the Library is nearly burnt by a mob infuriated by the news that the Byzantines have burnt the Arab fleet at Al Laks, the Cairo Arsenal.

1052 Leontius Patriarch of Alexandria is the first Prelate Librarian.

 1098 For the first time there is mention of the Codex Alexadrinus (a 4th century manuscript), “in cubiculo Patriarchali Kahira”.

 1252 Under Patriarch Nicholas I, the Library is moved to the Haret el Roum (The Roman Quarter) in Cairo.

 1316 Under Athanasius II the Library is endowed with precious      manuscripts.

 1500 Whilst the Adelentado Cristoforo Colombo is busy discovering new lands in the Sea of the Antilles, the Library is famous thanks to the efforts of the pious Patriarch Joachim the Athenian who died a centenarian. 

1565 German traveller Christopher Fuhrer of Nuremberg, visits the Library and speaks of it with admiration.

 1593 In his correspondence Patriarch Meletius I of Crete writes that Margaret, Queen of Navarre (consort of Henry IV), is “one of the friends of the Library”.

 1620 Patriarch Cyril Loukaris of Crete is promoted to the See of      Constantinople and takes away with him Codex Alexandrinus and other manuscripts (such as the Book of Job, which he offers to Gustavius Adolphus of Sweden, and a rare specimen of the Pentateuch in Arabic, which he presents to Archbishop Laud.)

1627 Cyril Loukaris presents the Codex Alexandrinus first to King James I and then to King Charles I for “personal reasons”. Both donor and receiver meet an evil death, it is said, because there is a curse on the Codex prohibiting it from “being taken away from Alexandria”.

 1636 The name of Patriarch Metrophanes Critopoulos of Beroea is mentioned in the List of the Patriarchs of Alexandria as “one who endowed the Library with books”; indeed most of the rare editions in print (since 1477) bear dedications and are “ex libris” of Metrophanes who, on returning to Egypt from his voyages, brings books to the Library.

 1688 Patriarch Gerassimos II of Crete is reputed to have “read much in the Library”.

 1715 Arsenios Archbishop of Thebais returning from England where he was sent on a mission to the Non Jurors Bishops, not only brings a grant of 500 pounds sterling from Queen Anne, but also many books in English.

 1741 Greek author Alexander Ypsilanti speaks with fervor of the Cairo Library which he visited.

 1796 First catalogue of the Library is written by hand by Patriarch Parthenios II of Patmos.

 1830 Under Patriarch Hierotheos I of Thessaly the Library is transferred from Haret el Roum to the Hamazaoui Quarter Cairo.

 1833 Mohammad Aly, Pasha of Egypt, an admirer of Alexander the Great, asks for a Life of Alexander which he intends translating into Turkish.

 1905 5th October. The Library is nearly burnt.

 1928 The Library is transferred to Alexandria under Patriarch Meletios II Metaxakis, the Cretan. The Library is provisionally installed in the Patriarchate.

 1947 The 3 volume catalogue is completed.

 1948 Inauguration of the new magnificent Library, with Hall for Lectures, at Ibrahimia, suburb of Alexandria, thanks to Patriarch Christophoros II.

 1952 Celebration of the First Millenary. 50 delegates come from abroad. Foundation of the Institute of Oriental Studies.

 

History of the Patriarchate      List of The Patriarchs      The library 

St. Mark      St. Peter of Alexandria      St. Catherine      St. Nectarios