Discover more from Ebla to E-Books: The Preservation and Annihilation of Memory
Fr. Columba is the “monk who saves manuscripts from ISIS.”
A ‘Monument Man’ of our time at the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library
Rev. Columba Stewart, a Benedictine monk, is executive director of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library.1 The Benedictine commitment to preserving manuscript heritage has existed from the time of Benedict of Nursia who allowed his monks to read the great works of the pagans in the monastery he founded at Monte Cassino in 529. The creation of that library initiated the tradition of Benedictine scriptoria, where the copying of texts provided materials needed in the routines of the community and served as work for hands and minds otherwise idle. Benedictine tradition from Peter the Venerable 2 to today3 is invested in work of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library.
Columba is a monk—part of the order that built libraries in the Middle Ages, preserving and reproducing Bibles by hand, along with psalters, books of martyrs, and Greek and Arabic philosophy.
A ‘Monument Man’ of our time, Father Columba Stewart has dauntlessly rescued centuries’ worth of irreplaceable cultural heritage under threat from around the world.4
Fr. Columba Stewart, a Benedictine monk and executive director of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML) at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, outlined efforts to preserve ancient European monastic manuscripts in the face of threats during the Cold War.
The efforts to preserve ancient manuscripts have expanded throughout the world and most recently have helped save precious writings in Syria and Iraq.5
Fr. Columba is the “monk who saves manuscripts from ISIS.”6
Fr. Columba outlined the work of that project at the National Endowment for the Humanities Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities Oct. 7, 2018. 7
Father Columba discussed his commitment to:
"applying the Benedictine tradition of preserving human thought for the contemporary world." This effort at preservation is part of a broader commitment to listening--to the wisdom of those who came before us, and to each other, in the pursuit of "mutual understanding, the only possible basis for reconciliation and for the resolve to move forward for the common good."
Hill Museum & Manuscript Library. History: A singular mission for more than 55 years. Preserving and sharing the world’s handwritten past to inspire a deeper understanding of our present and future. The idea for preserving at-risk manuscripts at Saint John’s University (SJU) in Collegeville, Minnesota began in the 1950s when Father Colman Barry, OSB was inspired by a project to microfilm a selection of the Vatican’s manuscripts. He envisioned SJU as a safe repository for microfilms of manuscripts held in Benedictine libraries from across Europe.
Goddard, Hugh. A History of Muslim-Christian Relations. Chicago: New Amsterdam Books, 2000.
"This monk helped save ancient manuscripts from ISIS". Aleteia — Catholic Spirituality, Lifestyle, World News, and Culture. 2019-10-13.
Becoming Columba: An interview with Father Columba Stewart, 2019 Jefferson Lecturer in the Humanities by Jon Parrish Peede. HUMANITIES, Fall 2019, Volume 40, Number 4
2019 Jefferson Lecture: Father Columba Stewart. "Cultural Heritage Present and Future: A Benedictine Monk’s Long View."