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Alphonse Mingana

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Alphonse Mingana (born as Hurmiz Mingana, 1878 Sharansh, village near Zakho, Ottoman Empire (present day Iraq) - died 5 December 1937 Birmingham, England) was an Assyrian theologian, historian, orientalist and a former priest who is best known for collecting and preserving the Mingana Collection of ancient Middle Eastern manuscripts at Birmingham. Like the majority of Assyrians in Zakho, his family belonged to the Chaldean Catholic Church. Alphonse was born to Paolus and Maryam Nano, and had seven siblings. Alphonse was born as Hurmiz Mingana, but changed his name after becoming a Chaldean priest.

Arrival in England

In 1913 Mingana came to England at the invitation of J. Rendel Harris, Director of Studies at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, a Quaker Settlement at Selly Oak on the edge of Birmingham. Mingana remained at Woodbrooke for two years where he met his future wife, Emma Sophie Floor, a Norwegian student. The couple were married in 1915. In the same year Mingana was appointed to the staff of the John Rylands Library in Manchester to catalogue the Library's collection of Arabic manuscripts. He lived in Manchester until 1932 during which time his two children, John and Marie, were born. By the time Mingana left John Rylands in 1932 he had risen to the post of Keeper of the Oriental Manuscripts.

The Mingana Collection

In 1924 Mingana made the first of three trips to the Middle East to collect ancient Syriac and Arabic manuscripts. The expedition was sponsored by John Rylands Library and Dr Edward Cadbury, the Quaker owner of the famous chocolate factory at Bournville, who Mingana had met through Rendel Harris. A number of the manuscripts he returned with formed the basis of the Mingana Collection at Woodbrooke. Mingana added to the collection with manuscripts acquired on two further trips to the Middle East in 1925 and 1929, both trips were financed solely by Edward Cadbury. In 1932 Mingana moved back to Birmingham to focus on cataloging the collection. The first catalogue describing 606 Syriac manuscripts was published in 1933. A further volume published in 1936 describes 120 Christian Arabic manuscripts and 16 Syriac manuscripts. The third volume, cataloging 152 Christian Arabic manuscripts and 40 Syriac manuscripts was published in 1939, two years after Mingana's death.

The Mingana Collection is housed in the University of Birmingham Special Collections department where it is available for study.[1] The collection is designated by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council as being of international importance. A major exhibition of manuscripts from the collection entitled Illuminating Faith was held at the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery in 2005.

The Mingana Collection is made up of:

  • 660 Syriac and Karshuni (Arabic in Syriac characters) Christian manuscripts including church documents, gospels, works on liturgy, lives of saints and homilies. Among the earliest items are a number of important fragments originating from St. Catherine's Monastery, Sinai.
  • 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.
  • 2000 Arabic Islamic manuscripts mainly on 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.
  • Examples of Armenian, Coptic, Georgian, Greek, Hebrew, Persian, Samaritan and Sanskrit manuscripts.

The manuscripts in the collection have proven to be a significant resource for Western scholarship in regards to the Qu'ran and other religious scriptures.

Articles by Mingana

External links


  1. Special Collections at
  • Coakley, J. F. (1993) A Catalogue of the Syriac Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, Vol. 75, No. 2, Summer 1993.
  • Hunt, Lucy-Anne (1997) The Mingana and Related Collections Birmingham: Edward Cadbury Charitable Trust
  • Margoliouth, D. S. & Woledge, G. (1939) A. Mingana: a Biography and Bibliography. Birmingham: Selly Oak Colleges
  • Samir, Kahil Samir. "Alphonse Mingana 1878-1937". Selly Oak Colleges, Birmingham, 1990. 

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