For over 1500 years a small box lay buried in the sands of Egypt. Its accidental discovery in the 1920s revealed its contents to be the lost books of a world religion. These books belonged to the Manicheans, a religion so popular that it almost replaced Christianity as the dominant religion in many regions as it spread from Persia to Spain in the West and to China in the East. Its success threatened all in authority and led to its ultimate destruction.
Modern students of Manichaeism owe a profound debt to Alfred Chester Beatty for his preservation of the ancient texts of this lost world religion. His library holds the world’s largest collection of Mani’s writings. The publication of Beatty’s manuscripts was entrusted to the International Committee for the publication of the Chester Beatty Manichaean papyri headed by scholars from Denmark, Germany, Australia and the United States. The Manichaean books of the Chester Beatty Library have been the focus of recent publications in the Corpus Fontium Manichaeorum, a major international research and publication project sponsored by UNESCO under the aegis of the Integrated Study of the Silk Road.
This exhibition is a world first, never before has there been a display of Manichaean books. It reveals the story of Mani and his religion. A religion that everyone had thought was destroyed and which everyone wanted to be destroyed.