Posted on December 4th 2018
In April this year, I spent eight days at the Monastery of St Catherine’s in southern Sinai. There were early mornings in church, listening to the chanting monks and watching the light gradually increase until it burst through the topmost windows; sessions in the magnificent new Library, looking at ancient manuscripts with the Librarian, Father Justin; and a very hot two hours puffing an panting up the well-named Steps of Repentance to the Plain of Elijah, at the base of Mount Sinai. From here it is still another seven hundred steps to the top, but worth it: there we sat in silence, watching the shadows pass and listening to the wind.
By the end of those eight days I knew that my book about the removal of the Codex Sinaiticus from the Monastery could no longer be written as a novel – it had to be history: apart from anything else, I was getting so fed up with people asking, ‘Where’s the love interest?’
It took a few weeks to adjust to this idea. Ideally one should know German, Russian and Greek to research this story, but my father dismissed my scruples with his usual robust cheerfulness: ‘My Greek’s not up to much either,’ he said, ‘but it didn’t stop me writing a three volume history of Byzantium!’
He died on 1 June. I have written the first few chapters, and the finished book will be dedicated to his memory.
1) These pages of the Codex Sinaiticus, displayed under a 6th century bronze cross, are among the few that remain at the Monastery.
2) The Steps of Repentance, the pilgrim path to Mount Sinai.