The scope of the project, which took place between March 2019 – February 2020, covers the conservation of more than a thousand items (both printed books and manuscripts) from the library collection of the Virgin Mary Church in Mardin owned by the Syriac Catholic Foundation. The collection is composed of a wide range of materials varying from baptistery records to priest diaries of metropolitans and patriarchs, from daily life activities to visitor lists, as well as prayer books printed or handwritten in Arabic, Syrac and Latin.
During infrastructure works in the historic center of Mardin, certain interventions caused flooding that resulted in damage to the Virgin Mary Church. Most of the items in the collection were submerged in water and thus suffered significant damage. Although the custodian of the Church took the artefacts outside to prevent further harm; water and moisture had already caused severe damage to books and manuscripts.
In the initial stage of the project, academics, intellectuals and leaders of the Syriac community selected the most significant materials that needed immediate conservation. A condition assessment of the books was made and a strategy for improving the maintenance of these materials in the future was developed. Afterwards, official permissions were obtained from related authorities for the restoration, storage units were purchased and installed and finally data management and catalogue systems were determined.
The project implemented a plan composed of three phases for the conservation of and access to the collection. Initially, the artefacts underwent cleaning: dust, soil and mold were removed from the books and manuscripts to improve their maintenance. 1800 books were cleaned in total. Later, the bookshelves holding the items were covered with acid-free boards in order to act as a barrier against any harm that may arise from the books and manuscripts touching the wooden shelves. A digital catalog system was designed to document the previously unregistered items, which included basic information such as their titles, language and measurements. In addition, three to four sample pages of each book were scanned and included in the catalog.
The third phase of the project included the dissemination of the findings of the conservation study through a workshop aimed at local professionals and caretakers in charge of similar collections in the region. 37 trainees attended the 2-day workshop in which basic preventive conservation methods were discussed and demonstrated. The workshop included topics such as creating an ideal storage environment, shelving, handling, mechanical cleaning, cataloguing, accessibility, and raising awareness among the caretakers of local collections.
The data in the digital catalogue was processed by the Heritage Management Organization (HERITΛGE). 1377 books were digitized and archived with a special focus on the description of their content in terms of metadata. The content of the database is intended as a tool for visual research and study. This database also enables the user to search online primary resources relating to written and printed heritage of the collection. The user is able to query the collection based on the name, author, date and dimensions of the publication. Selected images of these books are also accessible through the digital repository of the database.
Funder: Prince Claus Fund
Project Coordinator: Başak Emir