sphere of influence, since it acquired many of its manuscripts through donations from abroad. To take the example of the one Latin manuscript held by the library: this is a Psalter of the ninth century almost certainly of north African provenance, which was brought to the monastery in the thirteenth century.
The monastery of St Sabas goes back to a saint of that name, who decided in 478 to shut himself away in a cave in the gorge of Kedron, some 15 kilometres from Jerusalem.72 The monastic buildings are set on a narrow platform on the edge of the ravine and to the present day shelter a community of Melkite monks. This monastery quickly became an important centre of literary activity, dominated in the eighth century by the figure of John of Damascus. The tombs of St Sabas and of John of Damascus attracted pilgrims, at least until the thirteenth century when the relics of the former were transferred to Venice and those of the latter to Constantinople. The monastery suffered from the repressive policies of the Mamluk Sultan Baybars and thereafter had a less prominent role to play, even if its monks continued to produce literary works.73 Some 250 years ago a large part of its rich library was destroyed in a fire, but nearly 800 manuscripts were saved and transferred in the nineteenth century to the patriarchate ofJerusalem.74
From the many Coptic monasteries established both in the desert regions of the Wadi al-Natriin (to the west of the western branch of the Nile delta) and close to the Red Sea we shall single out St Antony's monastery. This consisted of a vast complex of buildings and gardens protected by a wall 2 kilometres long. It experienced a particularly prosperous period in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries after its final emancipation from the Syrian monks of the Wadi al-Natrun. The large number of Coptic manuscripts produced by the monastery from 1231 to 1306 and preserved today in Cairo testifies to the existence of an excellent scriptorium and a well-stocked library, which will have underpinned the intellectual revival ofthe thirteenth century; this is best illustrated by the activities of the Banu Assal, a leading Coptic family.
The work of the scriptorium sometimes went hand in hand with artistic activities. For example, a gospel book embellished with fifty-two magnificent miniatures (now in the Vatican Library), was copied around 1220 in the monastery of Mar Mattai near Mosul, one of the most ancient Jacobite
72 D. Pringle, The churches of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem: a corpus, 11 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 258-68.
73 Y. Frenkel, 'Mar Saba during the Mamloukand Ottoman periods', in TheSabaiteheritagein the Orthodox Church from the fifth century to the present, ed.J. Patrich [Orientalialovaniensia analecta 98] (Louvain: Peeters, 2001), 111-16.
74 A. Peristeris, 'Literary and scribal activities at the monastery of St Saba', in Sabaite heritage, 171-94.
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