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Thursday, 12 July, 2001, 15:34 GMT 16:34 UK
Priceless ancient text reassembled
Chester Beatty Library
The script will be housed in the Chester Beatty Library
A collection of Persian religious manuscripts dating from the third century have been collected in one place for the first time in 70 years.

The Gospel of Mani, written on blackened papyrus, is the last surviving evidence of a now-defunct religion, Manichaeism.

Founded by Mani the sage, who claimed divine revelation and preached that he was the final prophet of God in the world, after Adam, Buddha, Jesus Christ and Zarathushtra.

The religion spread out over most of the known world of the 1st millennium AD, from Spain to China.


In its day, it was one of the greatest books to survive from the ancient world

Michael Ryan, library director
But the religion disappeared first from the West in 10th century, and from China in the 14th century, and today it is believed defunct.

The manuscripts have had a long and multinational history.

They were caught up in the collapse of the Third Reich, taken to Russia, and has finally ended up in the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin.

Parchment
Some pages were placed in a bunker under Berlin Zoo for safety

Sir Alfred Chester Beatty sent the religious text for restoration by expert Hugo Ibscher in Berlin in the 1930s.

When World War II began, some pages were placed in a bunker under Berlin Zoo for safety.

Others were kept by Ibscher, who took them to Bavaria to continue his restoration.

Reunification

When Berlin was conquered by the Russian army, the manuscripts were discovered by the Russians and taken to Leningrad. Ibscher returned his manuscripts to Beatty in 1945.

Ibscher's son continued to restore other pages in West Germany during the 50s.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the ensuing reunification of Germany, the manuscripts were also reunified.

At the request of the Beatty collection, the remaining manuscripts were returned to Dublin, some 70 years after they were first sent off for restoration.

Exotic cultures

A US millionaire and art collector, Beatty came to live in Ireland in 1949.

He bequeathed his collection of cultural artefacts to the Irish people in trust when he died in 1968.

His collection contains some 22,000 manuscripts, various rare books, and other objects of curiosity from various exotic cultures and civilizations.

Michael Ryan, director of the Chester Beatty Library, said: "It is remarkable that after all this historical messing around that the gospel is now back together again in Dublin.

"In its day, it was one of the greatest books to survive from the ancient world."

Hopes of a happy ending are slim, however.

"I cherish the hope that there is a little hill village somewhere in China where there are still followers of Mani, but I don't think that is the case," he added.

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