The Mingana Collection

A detail from a persian manuscript

The Mingana Collection is made up of over 3,000 Middle Eastern manuscripts in over 20 languages, which include Arabic, Syriac, Ethiopic, Georgian, Hebrew, Samaritan and Armenian. This unique and rich collection was brought together during the 1920s by Iraqi priest, Alphonse Mingana, who had settled in England. 

The collection came to be cared for by the University of Birmingham Special Collections when the Selly Oak Colleges merged with the University in the 1990s. 

See the collection online

The 26 illustrations here can only give a flavour of the riches available for research or consultation.

How the collection is made up

The value of the collection to scholarship is enormous: the Syriac section with its 662 manuscripts rates third in the West after the British Museum and the Vatican Library; the Christian Arabic section is surpassed in the West only by the Vatican Library and the Bibliotheque Nationale of Paris. 

The collection is made up of:

  • Over 2000 Arabic Islamic manuscripts on mainly religious subjects. There are several copies of the Qur'an, besides two collections of fragments of Kufic Qur'ans, dating from the 8th and 9th centuries AD. 
  • Other works include Qur'an commentaries, Hadith, law, literature, science and mysticism.
  • 270 Arabic Christian manuscripts, including a fragment of the oldest known text of the Acta Thomae, and a very early copy of the Arabic translation of some works by St Ephrem.
  • Over 660 Syriac and Karshuni (Arabic in Syriac characters) Christian manuscripts, including church documents, gospels, works on liturgy, lives of saints and homilies; amongst the earliest items are a number of important fragments originating from St Catherine's Monastery, Sinai.

There are also examples of Armenian, Coptic, Georgian, Greek, Hebrew, Persian, Samaritan and Sanskrit manuscripts.

The importance of the collection

The whole collection is also important from a palaeographical perspective in terms of the use of different media: vellum, parchment and the early use of paper; for examples of early bindings showing Middle Eastern binding techniques, and of how a book is put together – the book as an artefact, a work of art.

The collection has been ‘Designated’ as being of outstanding international importance by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA). Find out about the  Designation Scheme (now administered by the Arts Council, England).