Thursday, July 19, 2007

Library Repair Causes a Plea to the Pope

The New York Times recently published the following story which quotes from Lucas Van Rompay:

Library Repair Causes a Plea to the Pope
ROME, June 21 — Normally a sanctuary of scholarly meditation, the Vatican Library has been the scene of unusually hectic activity lately, as word has spread that it will close in July for a three-year renovation.

Since the Vatican announced the impending shutdown, dozens of scholars have been lining up each day at ever earlier hours to snatch one of the 92 available spots in the manuscript room, where they can pore over archaic texts in forgotten languages. The library staff, traditionally prompt in responding to requests, has been struggling to keep up with the demand.

“We’re kept waiting like the virgins in the Gospel for their bridegroom to come,” Lucas Van Rompay, a professor of religion from Duke University who specializes in Eastern Christianity, said jokingly. He was referring to Jesus’ Parable of the 10 Virgins, a lesson on maintaining faith, after two particularly frustrating mornings of his own. “It’s getting worse every day.” . . . .

. . . . Petitions addressed to Pope Benedict XVI, the ultimate authority on Vatican matters, are circulating among scholars. Some ask that the manuscript division at least remain accessible to the public during the three-year renovation. Others request that the closing be delayed until 2008 so that scholars will have time to wrap up research and meet publishing or teaching deadlines.

The Pope is scheduled to visit the library on Monday, according to Ambrogio Piazzoni, the library’s vice prefect. “He wants to understand what’s going on,” he said in an interview . . . . .

.. . . . . “Why don’t they separate what is unique from what’s not unique?” asked Professor Van Rompay, who is preparing a catalog of Syriac manuscripts originating at the Monastery of the Syrians in the Egyptian desert. The most ancient of the 900 Syriac manuscripts owned by the Vatican came from this monastery, and 34 barely survived an 18th-century boat accident that left them water-damaged.

For him, handling the original objects is not only preferable but also critical. “There are times where you can’t distinguish between a dot on a letter or an insect that just plopped on the page,” he said. “If I am going to publish a text, I need to see it.” . . . . .

. . . . . Professor Van Rompay said that the Vatican should find some way to provide access to the original texts during construction. “There’s no doubt that the restorations at the Vatican are urgent and important, but this is the most drastic approach they could have chosen,” he said. “In the modern world it must be possible to find another solution.”

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