Over the ages, the Patriarchs, Archbishops and Monastery Abbots, paid a great importance to establishing precious libraries, then added to them scientific, religious and historical manuscripts. Some of these ancient libraries which are mentioned in the Literary History of the Syrians are: the collections of Qartmin Monastery, in Tour Abdin, Mor Matta Monastery in Mosul, Iraq, Deir Al-Surian in Egypt, Mor Barsawmo Monastery in Malatia, and the Maphrians’ Library in Tikrit, Iraq. These libraries were rich resources of learning, wisdom and knowledge, which were greatly used by the followers of science, literature and wisdom books.
In this era, Patriarch Aphrem I (1933-1956) of blessed memory is considered the founder of the modern Patriarchal Library, on which he spent lots of money and collected valuable volumes which were found in his library; some printed and others as manuscripts in different languages. Time took its toll on them though, and most of the books, whether printed or manuscripts, which counted more than a thousand, were lost. After him came Patriarch Yacoub III (1957-1980), who added to them a considerable number of books, which he bought himself, or were offered to him as gifts. But, the golden age the Patriarchal Library passed through was at the time of Patriarch Zakka I (1980-2014), in which the library contained more than twenty thousand volumes, most of which were in Syriac, Arabic, English, French and Greek, in addition to Malayalam, Turkish, Armenian, Russian, Latin and Italian etc. Currently, His Holiness, Patriarch Aphrem II, is adding to it new books that he gets as gifts, and others bought by the Department of Syriac Studies, initiated by His Holiness, from the budget singled for the Library.
Thus, the Patriarchal Library includes the collections of the past mentioned Patriarchs of the Syriac Orthodox Church, in addition to the library of St. Aphrem Theological Seminary, with its two branches; the old one in Atchaneh, Lebanon and the new one in Ma‘arrat Saydnaya. Nowadays, the present library is located at Mor Aphrem Monastery, the Theological Seminary in Ma‘arrat Saydnaya, Syria.
It’s appropriate to mention, with great gratitude, the important collections donated by organizations, publishing houses and individuals to the Patriarchal Library:
- The Religious Education Center in Brussels, by the help of Raban Hazael Sawme (later, Archbishop Hazael Sawme).
- Jubran Gawrieh, who donated his private library, rich in historical and political books.
- Dar Tlas for Studies, Translation and Publication, donated a good amount of books.
- Gorgias Press, established and directed by Dr. George Kiraz.
- Professor Christos Volgaris, who offered valuable Greek books.
- Khaled Dinno, who is considered the most donor of new books in the last ten years.
After establishing the Department of Syriac Studies, great efforts were exerted towards enlarging the capacity of the Patriarchal Library, categorizing and cataloguing its subjects according to Dewey Decimal Classification. Work was carried out on modern computerization. An electronic cataloguing program was designed specifically for the library, and it was connected to a server and an intranet. In September 2015, books started to be entered in the system, and it reached almost to 17,000.