The session on Textiles in Syriac Manuscripts is hosted by co-discussants Georgios Boudalis (Museum of Byzantine Culture, Thessaloniki), Aaron Butts (Catholic University of America), and Thelma K. Thomas (NYU Institute of Fine Arts).
The video explores a Syriac New Testament (Peshitta) manuscript from the Lake Van region (today SE Turkey) likely dating to the 12th century, now in the collection of Chapin Library, Williams College (Codex Mss. 037). The co-discussants’ research suggest that the book’s textile pastedown and binding (sewing, endbands, spine lining, covering) may have been added by an Armenian binder in the early 17th century when the book was rebound. Co-discussants explore the origins of the block printed cotton pastedown, which is similar to early modern printed cotton from Gujarat, but may have been produced in the Lake Van region where the manuscript was originally scribed and bound centuries earlier. This evidence, bound within the book’s covers, may offer important information about the production of printed textiles in this region. The manuscript contains an Arabic ‘renewal’ note from this 17th-century period of rebinding, indicating it was re-consecrated in a religious ceremony at the Church of Our Lady in Siirt (Turkey). The origins of early codex are discussed – particularly the adaptation of textile technology to bind early books, sew the endbands, and incorporate textiles into the structural aspects of the book. Comparative examples of Byzantine, Georgian, Armenian bindings contextualize the production of the Williams Syriac manuscript. Co-discussants demonstrate how the manuscript bears witness to a life lived for centuries within the rich multicultural and interreligious milieu of the Tur Abdin (today SE Turkey, bordering Syria and Iraq) in which Muslims and a broad range of Christian communities lived intertwined lives, with the inevitable result that the objects that survive from this place and time are a testament to a shared cultural experience.
This research was supported by consultation with past and present textiles curators from the Victoria & Albert Museum – Rosemary Crill, Jennifer Wearden, Clare Browne – as well as Philip Sykas (Manchester Metropolitan University), and Ruth Barnes (Yale University Art Gallery). The BSR thanks Williams College and Chapin Library Special Collections librarian Anne Peale for sharing images and information on this case study.
The contents of this pre-workshop video were discussed by panelists during the workshop on June 2-3.