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Medieval Treasures of Sinai now digitized on new website

By Alice Isabella Sullivan

A new website makes the impressive medieval collections of Saint Catherine’s Monastery at Mount Sinai available to everyone for study, teaching, research, and discovery! Users can now browse over 11,700 images of icons and manuscripts, and will soon be able to see liturgical objects, architecture, mosaics, and more.

The famous monastery at Mount Sinai holds a prominent place in Christian history. It is one of the oldest monasteries in use to this day, and its vast holdings have long been valued by scholars of medieval and Byzantine art, history, and culture. However, the monastery’s remote location and the current pandemic have limited access to the site and its collections.


The new Sinai Digital Archive – accessible at – makes available in open access for the first time the monastery’s remarkable icons, religious objects, and manuscripts. The large photographic evidence that sits at the foundation of this work was gathered during the so-called Michigan-Princeton-Alexandria Expeditions to Sinai in 1950s and 1960s.

In 1956, George H. Forsyth, then professor of art history at the University of Michigan, embarked on his first trip to the Monastery of Saint Catherine in Egypt. Upon his return from this initial exploratory adventure, Professor Forsyth invited his colleague, Professor Kurt Weitzmann from Princeton University, to join him on future expeditions to the remote monastery.


Between 1958 and 1965, Forsyth, Weitzmann, and their team of experts carried out four research expeditions to Sinai. The Michigan-Princeton-Alexandria Expeditions, as they came to be known, enabled the researchers to study the church and its monastic complex firsthand, as well as document the vast collections of icons, manuscripts, sculptures, and textiles. Photography of the expedition fell under the direction of Fred Anderegg, then head of photographic services at the University of Michigan.

The field notes and photographic material gathered during these expeditions are preserved in “Sinai Archives” in the Visual Resources Collections at the University of Michigan and Princeton University. Princeton’s archive centers on a smaller portion of the collection, primarily the colored icon photographs, manuscript pages, and the mosaics, which were of most interest to Weitzmann during his scholarly career. Michigan’s collection, in turn, consists of correspondences, drawings, research notes, as well as images created in black and white, 35 mm color, and Ektachrome film of the site and its large multi-media holdings.

The work on the current Sinai website began in 2018 with a preliminary effort to bring together the icons held in the Princeton and Michigan collections. The gathered and combined metadata and archive images from both institutions sit at the foundation of this new website.

Everyone is encouraged to study and use the Sinai Digital Archive. Those wishing to publish the material have to submit a formal request to either Princeton or Michigan, depending on which institution holds the rights to a particular image. Before final distribution of the visual material, both institutions reach out to the Monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai with details about the requested works and the project in question.


To date, the website features the religious icons held in the Princeton and Michigan collections, as well as the icons only present in the Michigan archive—a total of 1903 works! Recently, manuscript folia have been added to the site. Future development will include the addition of liturgical objects, and the entire archive of the expeditions. In time, the individual entries will also feature additional content related to the condition of the object, dimensions, and bibliography. The data is continually enhanced, and the team welcomes feedback from users.

The New Sinai Digital Archive reflects a desire on the part of the team and both institutions to encourage the study, teaching, research, and discovery of this material among students, teachers, scholars, and the wider public, underscoring the importance of the Monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai and its collections over time.

Click here to visit the Sinai Digital Archive

Alice Isabella Sullivan is an art historian specializing in the medieval history, art, and culture of Eastern Europe and the Byzantine-Slavic cultural spheres. She has authored award-winning publications, is co-editor of Byzantium in Eastern European Visual Culture in the Late Middle Ages, Eclecticism in Late Medieval Visual Culture at the Crossroads of the Latin, Greek, and Slavic Traditions, and co-founder of North of Byzantium and Mapping Eastern Europe. Follow her on Twitter @AliceISullivan