THE PATRIARCHAL LIBRARY OF ALEXANDRIA
The ancient and historical Patriarchal Library of Alexandria has followed the fate of the historical course of the Patriarchate of Alexandria through the centuries. Human interventions along with natural disasters have caused the loss of important spiritual treasures and invaluable manuscript codices. It could be said that the Patriarchal Library of Alexandria has its roots at the beginning of our era and it possibly constitutes an extension of the famous, rich ancient Library of Alexandria.
Initially the Patriarchal Library was housed in the temple of Saint Theonas. Since the time of Saint Athanasius and till the Arabic conquest (642), it was situated in Caesarium, the ‘Great Temple’ of Alexandria. After the Arabic conquest the Patriarchal Throne remained vacant without an orthodox Patriarch (642-727) and many books and codices were destroyed or lost. The first Patriarch after the Arabic conquest Kosmas A’ succeeded in saving a lot of manuscripts and codices of the Library. Yet in fact the Patriarch who reorganized the Library and put it in the service of the Patriarchate and its flock was the Patriarch Eftihios (933-940), an ecclesiastical figure of great cultivation and author of many works, among which his Chronograph was the most important.
The year 1252, when Nicolaos A’ was Patriarch, the Library followed the Patriarchate’s transfer to the district of Haret el Roum (district of the Greeks) in Cairo. During all this period the various Patriarchates of Alexandria were intensely interested in the Library, the conservation of its treasures and its enrichment. Actually the year 1796 we have the first official catalogue of its manuscripts, codices and books content by the Patriarch of Alexandria Parthenius B’ of Patmos. Here it must be underlined that it was a great misfortune for the Library and the Orthodox Church as a whole, the fact that the Library lost possession of the famous 4th century Codex Alexandrinus, which contains the text of the Holy Bible. This codex was donated by the Patriarch Kirillos Loukaris to the King of England and today it is exposed in the British Museum. Additionally the same Patriarch donated other rare manuscripts of the 3rd and 4th centuries to Kings of Europe and ecclesiastical men of high rank (mostly Anglicans).
At the same time the Library accepted valuable donations by cultivated Patriarchs, Archbishops and believers of books and manuscripts, which have considerably enriched its collections. Its great donors were: the Patriarch of Alexandria Mitrofanis Kritopoulos (1636-1639), the Metropolitan of Thebes Arsenius, the Metropolitan of Tripoli Theofanis, the Great Commentator of the Patriarchate Georgios Kipiadis, Alexandros Kasdaglis, Panagiotis Aristofronos and many others.
The year 1830, when Ierotheos Α΄ was Patriarch, the Patriarchal Library was transferred to the district of Hamzaoui in Cairo, where today it is situated the Patriarchal Commission of Cairo and the Patriarchal Temple of Saint Nicolaos. The year 1928, when Meletios Metaxakis was Patriarch, the Library was transferred to Alexandria, where the Patriarchal Throne had been also transferred by the Patriarch Sofronius the last quarter of the 19th century. The year 1947 the library was housed in a private building at the district of Ibrahimiya and the year 1971 was permanently transferred to the ex Tositsas School, where today the Throne is also housed.
Naturally all these transfers have diachronically disorganized the Library and have caused problems concerning its operation and the conservation of its valuable treasures. For this reason after its transfer to Alexandria the Patriarch Meletios assigned to Theodoros Volidis the task of making a study for the Library’s reorganization and its services modernization. The year 1930 Nicolaos Phirippidis was officially appointed Librarian and he worked very hard for the Library’s organization until 1942. However the Librarian that laid the foundations so as the Library to become known to the entire scientific world was Theodoros Moschonas, who fully reorganized the Library and promote its treasures, organizing or participating to international congresses. The same route was followed by his son Demetrius Moschonas, who continued his father’s work at the Patriarchal Library until 1998.
A milestone of great historical value that deserves to be mentioned is the celebration of the Library’s millennium the year 1952. As Terminus Post Quem in determining the millennium was considered the most ancient manuscript codex of the Library (no. 34), which is dated back to the middle 10th century. The celebration acquired a festive character and great splendor was bestowed by the participation to the event of many intellectual personalities representing historical universities or libraries, like the Libraries of the Vatican, the Escorial and the Congress or the London and the Paris Libraries.
Since the year 2000 the Library entered to a new phase of space reorganization, classification and cataloguing of its content, digitalization and conservation of its collections and connection with international data bases. These tasks are today in progress.
Today the Patriarchal Library of Alexandria covers a big part of the ground and first floors of the Patriarchate on the horizontal axis. Both these floors were modernized, organized and equipped as a result of the inspired vision and incessant activity of his Beatitude, the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa Theodoros II, and enabled by the donation given by the National Bank of Greece, since its ex president Mr. Takis Arapoglou, an Alexandrian in origin, has always shown a special interest in the wellbeing of the Alexandrian Throne. It contains more than forty thousands (40.000) books, out of which three thousands (3.000) are dated between 1460 and 1800. All these books are placed in the rolling bookshelves situated in the six big halls of the ground and first floors. On the ground floor as the visitor enters there has been organized a small museum depicting the history of the Library through the exhibited ancient manuscripts, old books, ottoman decrees, patriarchal letters, holy icons, liturgical objects and portraits of the Patriarchates that played a crucial role in reorganizing the Library during the last two centuries. Besides a sophisticated hall of meetings and projections on the left side, there is also on the ground floor a small modern congress hall with a capacity for 50 participants, an ideal high standard space for scientific conferences. Through wooden staircase visitors ascend to the first floor, where, in communication with three halls of rolling bookshelves, there are two spacious, comfortable and modern reading halls.
The last hall of the first floor has been specially designed to house the manuscript codices of the Library. This hall contains special systems of security along with high technology systems in order the manuscripts to be protected against robbery, fire, long term climatic or short term weather changes. Here there are being safeguarded the 530 manuscripts of the Patriarchate which are considered to be its invaluable treasure and an undisputed testimony of its long history. The manuscript codices are out of pergamena or paper. Chronologically they start from the middle 10th century and reach the middle 19th century. Nevertheless there are some sheets of the so called ‘porfiroun chirografon’ or ‘purple manuscript’ (no. 491) which is of the 5th century with big letters.
The most ancient manuscripts are those with no. 12, 34, 59, 289, and 477, all of them dated on the 10th century. Regarding their content, they are Holy Gospels (i.e. no. 59), lives of Saints (i.e. no. 15 and 24), musicals (i.e. no. 59) etc.
Moreover the collection contains manuscripts with tragedies of Aeschylus and Euripides (i.e. no. 18), philosophical works of Plato (i.e. no. 193) and Aristotle (i.e. the manuscript no. 87 of the 13th century with comments by Theodoros Metochitis), rare manuscripts, as the no. 248, which is a study of the solar and lunar circle, written at 1902, and the manuscript no. 430, which contains Aesopian myths and it is one of the rarest worldwide.
Additionally the collection contains works of Byzantine authors, like Ioannis Zonaras (no. 13, 36, 62), Mikhail Psellos (i.e. no. 71, 81, 216, 229), Georgios Pochimeris (i.e. no. 23, 99), Georgios Gemistos Plithonos (no. 193) and many others.
Finally it should be underlined that many manuscripts bear magnificent multicolored miniatures of exquisite Byzantine art, sophisticatedly decorated and richly colored titles, subtitles and initial letters. Such decorations of unique value are contained in the manuscripts no. 35 (lives of Saints, May – August), no. 65 (Holy Liturgies of Saint John Chrysostom and Basil’s the Great), no. 66 (with the same content) and no. 86 (small Holy Gospel).
Besides of the manuscripts, the Library houses the 157 codices of the Patriarchate’s historical archive, which present the Patriarchal administrative, pastoral, social and religious care in favor of its flock as well as the Patriarchal care for the more general ecclesiastical issues from the 16th century till the dawn of the 20th century. In these codices one can find Patriarchal documents; handwritten notes of Patriarchs, Metropolitans and librarians; Sigilia, Patriarchal Pitakia and Circulars; certificates of marriages, baptisms and deaths; testaments, contracts etc. Here it is vividly depicted on the one hand the adventurous life of the Alexandrian Church, the Patriarchates agony to safeguard their flock and secure the future of the church of Saint Mark and on the other hand the individual and collective social expression of the flock.
The Patriarchate’s historical archive is being completed by the files of the Patriarchal correspondence since the 17th century. A great volume of documents enrich the history of the Alexandrian Patriarchate and today is being classified with modern digital systems so as to be given at the disposal of the researchers.
The Patriarchal Library of Alexandria, saving diachronically the historical course of the Orthodox Church in the country of the Nile and in the entire continent of Africa and functioning like a candle which with its flickering light has constantly illuminated the historical path of the Alexandrian Church even during difficult and dark ages, stands today proud in its fully renovated space, ready to continue its multidimensional mission and receive every interested researcher or scholar from the four corners of the earth.