canada africa partner reservation Early Christian writings and ancient codices attract the attention of collectors to Paris | Louisiana inspired

Early Christian writings and ancient codices attract the attention of collectors to Paris | Louisiana inspired

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LONDON (RNS) – Amid all the preparations to make Paris a venue for the Olympic Games that start in less than 100 days, a small corner of the French capital is preparing for another modern form of competition, based on the antiquity: Christie’s auction of early Christian texts from North Africa.

Some of the most important religious artifacts for sale in recent years, the manuscripts from the private Schoyen Collection, including the oldest complete version of the First Epistle of Peter and the Book of Jonah, were put on display in New York earlier this month. and have arrived in Paris for inspection by potential bidders. The auction of the works, written on papyrus in the Coptic language, will take place at Christie’s in London in June.

The viewings of the Schoyen collection have attracted representatives from museums around the world and private collectors. For some they represent beauty, for others ties to the past and for others a connection to faith.

“This is one of the most important sales Christie’s has ever held in this area,” said Eugenio Donadoni, senior specialist in medieval and Renaissance manuscripts at Christie’s. “They are touchstones that help us understand the history of Christianity.”

The Schoyen Collection is the work of Martin Schoyen, building on his father’s collections, and now includes 20,000 manuscripts, 400 of which are related to the Bible. Now in his eighties, Schoyen has decided to sell part of it, including the most important artifacts.

According to Donadoni, the Crosby-Schoyen Codex – worth about $3.7 million – is believed to be the oldest book in the world in private hands, and in addition to the Epistle of Peter and the story of Jonah, it also contains part of the Book of Maccabees and contains an Easter sermon.

It is of great importance in the history of writing, Donadoni said, because it marks “a pivotal moment – ​​it is the transition from scrolls to codicils as Christianity spreads across the Mediterranean.”

But the codex also shows the religious pivot that was going on at the time. It is believed that the codex was used around the mid-third century by a monastery in Upper Egypt, before the Council of Nicaea in 325, which attempted to reach consensus on issues of the Christian faith such as the relationship between God the Father and God the Son, and his divine nature.

“You can see from the codex that they are finding their way as Christians,” Donadoni said. “They are still steeped in Jewish tradition and shape the new religion.”

The book is so old that it calls the text now known as the First Epistle of Peter the Epistle of Peter, as if they don’t know that an epistle still exists.

Another important manuscript going up for sale on June 11 is the Codex Sinaiticus Rescriptus, which is essentially a centuries-old attempt at recycling. In the 10th century, John Zosimos, a monk at a monastery near Jerusalem, acquired a document written on expensive parchment, which he wrapped and took to St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai Desert to reuse for his own writing. The original writing, which is itself the oldest surviving piece of the Gospels written in Aramaic and dates from the fifth or sixth century, is still visible.

The Codex Sinaiticus Rescriptus. (CHRISTIE’S IMAGES LTD. 2024) SUPPLIED PHOTO

“The underlying text was not cleaned up very well, so under fluorescent lighting you can still see it, written in the language that Jesus himself would have spoken,” Donadoni said.

The document, worth $1.85 million, is a bargain as the buyer gets the two texts for the price of one.

The Schoyen collection also includes the Holkham Hebrew Bible, a Sephardic manuscript in Hebrew from the 13th century, the Geraardsbergen Bible from late 12th-century Flanders and a commentary on the Gospels of the Venerable Bede from the 11th century.

Last year, the Codex Sassoon, a Hebrew Bible more than 1,000 years old, became the most valuable manuscript sold at auction when it went for $38.1 million at Sotheby’s in New York, confirming that New York is the leading market for Hebrew religious texts, while London is still the largest market. the capital for the sale of illuminated Christian texts. But both centers attract buyers, including museums, from around the world.

It is believed that prices have risen due to the intervention of one major player: the Green family, American evangelical Christians who have used their fortune created by the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores to buy illuminated or decorated manuscripts, Torahs, papyri and other to buy books. other works valued at $20 million to $40 million from auction houses, dealers, private collectors and institutions.

Items from the Green collection were donated to the Museum of the Bible in Washington, a family project that started in 2017 with the mission to “instill confidence in the absolute authority and reliability of the Bible.” It has since backed away from this evangelical purpose, saying it is an “institution whose purpose is to invite all people to engage with the transforming power of the Bible.”

The Chronique de la Bouquechardière. (CHRISTIE’S IMAGES LTD. 2024) SUPPLIED PHOTO

Meanwhile, the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center, a Bible museum founded by the American Bible Society in Philadelphia, announced it will close its doors after less than three years in operation and a $60 million investment. It opened in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns and failed to attract anywhere near the expected 250,000 annual visitors.

The British and Foreign Bible Society, which has the largest collection of Bibles and other religious books and documents in the world, has shied away from opening a museum, although it is opening its collection, based at the University of Cambridge, to scholars and researchers. Although the association is still expanding through legacies and donations and is committed to good management of its existing treasures, the association does not acquire items with its own resources. She prefers to spread the Bible and be involved in missions, rather than conveying the message that the Bible is a museum piece.

Recently there has been concern that some objects owned by collectors of biblical manuscripts have been acquired through the black market, especially from people in troubled areas of the Middle East. According to Christie’s Donadoni, all objects from the Schoyen Collection to be auctioned in June have been provenance checked and extensively checked by the legal department.