Paul van Moorsel Centre for Christian Art and Culture in the Middle East
In the course of years Leiden University has obtained a leading position in the study and conservation of Christian art in the Middle East, in particular in Egypt and Syria. The initiator of the university's tradition in this scientific field was Professor Paul van Moorsel, who was internationally acknowledged for his pioneering work on Coptic wall paintings and icons. After his retirement, the torch was held high by the next generation of scholars working under the aegis of the project Egyptian-Netherlands Cooperation for Coptic Art Preservation (ENCCAP), which mainly aimed at the training of monks responsible for art collections in their monasteries. Spin-offs of ENCCAP in Egypt are the excavations of the Monastery of Anba Musa al-Aswad and the discovery and restoration of spectacular wall paintings in the Monastery of the Syrians (Deir al-Surian), while in Syria a similar project was started up: Syrian-Netherlands Cooperation for the Study of Art in Syria (SYNCAS).
Members of the Paul van Moorsel Centre
In December 2000, ENCCAP and SYNCAS came to an end. There is, however, still a lot of work ahead. To facilitate the organization and execution of the existing and future activities, an expertise centre was recently founded as the follow-up of the projects: the Paul van Moorsel Centre for Christian Art and Culture in the Middle East, named after the 'Godfather' of this research in Leiden, who died in 1999. The centre comes under the Faculty of Art (Department Languages and Cultures of the Near East), and was officially opened on June 22, 2001.
In the Paul van Moorsel Centre all experience with and knowledge on Christian art in the Middle East that have been built up by Leiden University are concentrated, including a unique slide collection and a specialized library. The main aim of the centre is still the same as those of the projects: the conservation and study of the Christian material culture of the Middle East. Furthermore, the centre stimulates and supports other organizations and scholars who are involved in this scientific field. To achieve these aims the emphasis is put on collaboration, in particular with scholars, curators and restorers in countries of the Middle East, but also with governmental organizations and churches. Besides, common activities are developed with western museums and other universities, in the Netherlands as well as abroad.
On September 1, 2002 The Faculties of Arts and Theology have started a so-called PIONIER-project called "The formation of a communal identity among West Syrian Christians (451-1300)". The Paul van Moorsel Centre is responsible for the archeological and art historical aspects of this research project, and will focus mainly on the study of Christian wall paintings, icons, metal objects, manuscripts etc. in Syria and Lebanon.
An important task for the centre in Leiden will be the participation in the forthcoming Masters programme in eastern Christianity, which will also be accessible to students from abroad. The experience of the staff members of the centre with the relatively unknown richness of Christian art in the Middle East will certainly add an attractive dimension to this unique programme.
Middle Eastern Studies (Research): Christianity of the Middle East