The Mingana Collection

A detail from a persian manuscript

The Mingana Collection is made up of over 3000 Middle Eastern manuscripts in over 20 languages, which include Arabic, Syriac, Ethiopic, Georgian, Hebrew, Samaritan and Armenian. This unique and rich collection was acquired during the 1920s by Alphonse Mingana (1878-1937), a Chaldean priest born near Mosul, who had settled in England. Mingana's three trips to the Middle East to acquire manuscripts were funded by Dr Edward Cadbury, who generously named the collection after its first curator.

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

See the collection online

The 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 Library 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, including a fragmentary 7th century Hijazi Qur'an, one of the earliest known Qur'ans in the world, and a collection of fragments of a 9th century Kufic Qur'an.
  • 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: parchment, papyrus and the early use of Arabic paper, as well as examples of early Middle Eastern binding techniques.

The exceptional quality and signficance of the collection was recognised in 2007 when it was awarded  Designated Collection status as being of 'outstanding national and international importance' by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA). Find out about the  Designation Scheme now administered by the Arts Council, England.