Christian Middle East collections

An Armenian couple with an Armenian church in the background
An Armenian couple with an Armenian church in the background. Watercolour, Madras, c. 1790 (Add.MS.4286)

Our Christian Middle East collection comprises important manuscripts and printed items in the following languages: Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopic, Georgian and Syriac. It includes around 4,000 manuscripts and some 14,700 printed books and periodicals.

About the collection

The Christian Middle East or Christian Orient is a widely accepted term referring to the ancient Churches of the Near and Middle East which have preserved their traditions of worship, literature, architecture and art from the earliest times to the present day, even where the lands in which they dwell have been dominated by other civilisations in the course of the centuries.

Assembled over the past 185 years, first by the British Museum and since 1973 by the British Library, the Christian Middle East collections include the following language collections:
  • Armenian and Georgian (including Kartvelian languages, Svanian and Mingrelo-Laz, Daghestanian languages, Circassian, Abkhazian)
  • Coptic
  • Ethiopic (including Amharic, Tigrinya, Tigre and other Ethiopian languages)
  • Syriac (including Christian Aramaic, Karshuni, Mandaic and Neo-Syriac).
They include religious and secular works spanning from the 5th to the 20th century. Highlights include the Avag Vank Gospels (Armenian), Eastern Turkey, 1200-1 (Or.13654); the Octateuch (Ethiopian), 15th century (Or.480); Pistis Sophia (Coptic), c. 6th century (Add.MS.5114) and the Curetonian Gospels (Syriac), c. 450-470 (Add.MS.14451).

Material relating to the Christian Middle East is also to be found in Western language collections in the Department of Manuscripts and in the India Office Records.

What is available online?

Details of the Christian Middle East printed holdings are mostly available in the Library’s online catalogue Explore the British Library. Some of the older manuscript catalogues are available online in the Internet Archive. Full details are given on the individual collection pages.

At present only a very small number of manuscripts have been digitised and are available on the Library’s Digitised Manuscripts site. We are, however, planning to digitise further manuscripts from these collections to make them available online to wider audiences.

Other resources

The British library also hosts the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) which includes some digitised collections
Selected images relating to manuscripts from the Christian Middle East language collections can be found in the British Library Online Gallery (see especially Sacred Texts, Asia, Pacific & Africa Collections, and Turning the Pages). Additional images are also viewable on Images online  and the Library’s Flickr account. Collections items are sometimes described in our Asian and African Studies blog to which you can subscribe if you want to receive regular updates. We also tweet information on news, discoveries, bibliographical resources and collection items on Twitter

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

You can view printed materials, manuscripts and archives in the Asian & African Studies Reading Room. Some especially valuable or fragile material is restricted, available only in exceptional circumstances. Self-service photography is allowed for certain categories of material, provided that its condition allows this.

All our catalogues are available in the Reading Room.

What is available in other organisations?

Other important Christian Orient/Christian Middle East collections include:

UK and Ireland