On Thursday, November 14, Monsignor Najeeb, Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul and Aqra, welcomed the volunteers in the Digital Centre of Eastern Manuscripts (CNMO) in Erbil. Many pieces of art have been restored, including several that were damaged during the capture of Mosul by the Islamic State Organization.
Archbishop Najeeb, a great friend of the association, saved hundreds of centuries-old manuscripts from the hands of jihadists, who vowed to destroy them. Today, the Dominican of Mosul restores these structures by cleaning, protecting and preserving them in the centre. He stores everything on servers and then spreads it around the world and makes it accessible to researchers. Thus, he promotes the dissemination of knowledge and participates in the conservation of Oriental history.
In December 2017, SOS Chrétiens d'Orient decided to support his project to preserve Iraqi heritage. Thanks to the donors, the association began the construction of a new floor, which today serves as a restoration and digitalisation workshop. Antiacid boxes are also purchased to preserve the manuscripts and to protect them from animal invasions and humidity.
Laurie, volunteer in Erbil, tells us about it.
"We start the visit at 11:30 am, warmly welcomed by the secretary of the CNMO in the archivist's office. Immediately, I am charmed by the decoration of the latter and more particularly by a sumptuous painting of the Virgin Mary. Dating from the 13th century, it is now preserved on a plastered red background, framed by a gold outline. This work was carried out by two French restorers, who were volunteers in March 2019.
In the middle of the office stands a large table on which Iraqi snacks are placed. Three flags, from Iraq, Kurdistan and the Vatican, decorate and brighten up the room. Archbishop Najeeb greets us and offers us tea and “loukoums”, generous attention worthy of an Iraqi welcome.
He tells us about the importance of Iraqi cultural heritage. We feel in him a real passion for books, and a deep attachment to the history of his country, cradle of many civilizations, marked by many wars.
We start the visit in a room filled with labelled clean boxes, placed on iron shelves, where the books are surely stored. With white gloves and a spatula in his hand, the Archbishop arouses my curiosity by presenting us a beautiful manuscript: the New Testament, a work dating from the 11th century, burned on the edges, the sheepskin pages yellowed by aging and separated from each other, a real discovery. Despite its deterioration, all scriptures are clear and legible.
We are even more surprised to find in the small library the sacred Bible translated into 7 languages. I hurry to take pictures as Archbishop Najeeb turns the pages. I discover beautiful black and white images of Saints.
As we walk up to the second floor of the building, we meet two employees of the centre, scanning and packaging the manuscripts.
Financed by donors from SOS Chrétiens d'Orient, this floor houses the restoration workshop, where the boxes are handmade, as well as a machine to clean the books. It looks like an incubator, in which hands are inserted through two pipes to catch a mini vacuum cleaner to remove impurities from the manuscripts.
The visit ends. We immortalize this cultural encounter rich in discovery by posing alongside our host.
It is in these few pieces that I realize the importance of protecting this heritage and disseminating it, in particular to enable the Iraqi Christian diaspora to have a temporal vision of the specificities of their culture and identities. »
If you too would like to fund the cultural projects of the association, feel free to make a donation.
Laurie, volunteer in Iraq.