June 2013

The history of the Custody of the Holy Land is unearthed while digging through old magazines

Work on the San Salvatore library didn’t end when its new headquarters were opened. Rather, thanks to ATS Pro Terra Sancta, and as part of the “Books, Bridges of Peace” project, work then began on making the abundance of volumes of the Custody of the Holy Land available.

They don’t just consist of books, missals or manuscripts: there are also a wide number of magazines and newspapers available to users; both the latest issues, for keeping up-to-date, and faded yellow-paged issues from the nineteenth century, allowing users to open a window to the past.

Nicola, an ATS Pro Terra Santa volunteer, has been helping the library for three months by organizing this section. The section may not be as grand as the collection of ancient incunables and sixteenth-century books, but that doesn’t mean that it’s any less interesting or rich in ideas. The library, in fact, possesses more than 500 different titles on a number of different subjects: canon law, Franciscan orders, humanitarian sciences, geography, patristics, missions, theology, history… There are also various magazines in many different languages specifically about the Holy Land which means that news from the region can be spread to every corner of the world.

Nicola, from amongst the boxes and shelves, says: “While on the one hand it can be tiring, attempting to put magazines in Arabic, Hebrew, Cyrillic or Greek scripts into chronological order…on the other hand, it’s a useful personal exercise which helps me to better understand the pluralistic nature of Jerusalem.

It’s sometimes hard to resist the temptation to open the pages of a missionary magazine from over a hundred years ago, peruse the photographs of bearded Franciscans surrounded by Bedouins in statuesque poses, or amuse myself reading the advertisements from the early 900s!

Milan Kundera, in “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”, wrote: “everything is illuminated by the aura of nostalgia”. Nicola confirms this is true, and adds: “During my time here – says the volunteer – I’ve certainly seen plenty of reality and ‘the present’, but I’ve also been lucky, and I am lucky, here in the library, to be able to dig deep, under this aura of nostalgia, into this centuries-old tradition of the Custody – something we must never forget. Jerusalem is already magnificent, but seen under this light, it becomes even more beautiful.

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