Discovering Sacred Texts: highlights from the British Library’s vast and unparalleled collection of sacred books, scrolls and scriptures now online

Discovering Sacred Texts is a new free British Library online learning resource, inviting visitors to explore the world’s major faiths through the Library’s extensive collection of sacred texts.

Available to all, the new website includes over 250 digitised collection items, teachers’ resources, short films and articles written by academics, faith leaders and practitioners, library curators and cultural leaders.

Texts range from some of the best-known and most beautiful manuscripts of the scriptures of various world religions, to an extensive collection of printed editions, both early and modern, including selections from over 100 texts that are newly digitised and available online for the first time.

Discovering Sacred Texts provides access to the richness and diversity of the texts from the world’s great faiths. Designed for Religious Education students, teachers and lifelong learners, it features the six most-practised faiths in the UK – Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Sikhism – as well as a number of other faiths including the Baha’i Faith, Jainism and Zoroastrianism.

Highlights include:

  • A copy of the Lotus Sūtra in a lavishly decorated scroll from Japan, written in gold and silver ink on indigo-dyed paper dating back to 1636, which will also feature in the Library’s upcoming Buddhism exhibition
  • The earliest surviving copy of the complete New Testament, Codex Sinaiticus, which dates from the 4th century
  • The Ramayana, an epic poem ascribed to the sage Valmiki, composed in Sanskrit in the middle of the first millennium
  • The Ma’il Qur’an, one of the very earliest Qur’ans in the world, dating back to the 8th century
  • One of the earliest surviving manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible from the 10th century
  • The Prayer Book of Rani Jindan, a manuscript including three hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib, prepared in the early 19th century
  • Tablet written by the Bab, co-founder of the Baha’i Faith in the 19th century
  • Adhai Dvipa, a traditional Jain cosmic diagram from 18th-19th century
  • A copy of the world’s oldest Zoroastrian manuscript, the Ashem Vohu, dating from the 9th century

Offering specially researched and curated content, over 50 discursive articles are available for audiences exploring and celebrating religious diversity. Original articles by academics, library curators and faith leaders cover topics such as Islamic pilgrimage and sacred space, Henry VIII and the Reformation, iconography, the Buddha and the Buddhist sacred text, Hindu deities, the illumination of Jewish biblical texts and the shared origins of the Abrahamic faiths.

Of the 250 diverse collection items on the Discovering Sacred Texts platform, over 100 of these are now available to the public online for the first time, including selections from:

  • Tyndale’s New Testament, the first complete edition to be printed in English and one of only three copies surviving from the 3,000 or more printed in 1526
  • The British Library’s oldest dated manuscript of al-Bukhari’s collection of hadith from the 12th century  
  • A woodblock-printed Illustrated Life of Jesus in Chinese, from 1637, one of thirty-seven surviving copies of the book

A curated selection of the spectacular collection items representing these faiths will be on physical display in the British Library’s free, permanent Treasures Gallery to coincide with the launch of Discovering Sacred Texts.

A series of public events and talks will take place associated with the launch of the new resource, including a special event with Karen Armstrong, one of the world’s leading authorities on faith and scriptures, who will explore the relationship with holy texts in the modern world in a special event at the British Library on 17 October 2019.

Alex Whitfield, Head of Learning at the British Library, commented:

“We are thrilled to be launching Discovering Sacred Texts, a new website drawing on the strength and diversity of the British Library’s faith collections. This site gives free access to an incredible range of texts, videos and curated articles relating to some of the world’s major faiths, which we hope will provide an invaluable tool for students, teachers and lifelong learners all over the world.”

The project has been generously supported by Dangoor Education since its inception and by Allchurches Trust, alongside other funders.

David Dangoor of Dangoor Education, said:

“Having been involved since its inception many years ago with the British Library’s hugely successful website Discovering Literature, Dangoor Education is delighted to be embarking on a similar new initiative Discovering Sacred Texts. The British Library, as one of the great libraries of the world, is expanding and redefining the role of a library in the digital age.  Millions of people around the world will be able to see and understand the impact of many of the documents and texts that have helped shape the cultures of the world we live in today.”

Chairman of Allchurches Trust, Sir Philip Mawer, said: “This new learning resource will enable far more people to discover the British Library’s wonderful collection of sacred texts, including some of the earliest examples of Christian teaching, while the insight from experts, films and teaching materials will help bring the story of the world’s major faiths to life.”

More information availalbe from the British Library website: