Treasures in the Archives: An Arabic Vocabulary by John Covel (1638-1722)

This leather-bound volume, written in a very small hand, is an Arabic and Turkish vocabulary. Its catalogue entry was based on a pencil inscription inside which reads “by Mr John Coball, minister to Sir John Finch, Embassador at Constantinople.” Sir John Finch (1626-1682) was indeed Ambassador at Constantinople; but John Coball had never been identified.

Photographs reproduced with the permission of Westminster College, Cambridge

But it has recently been suggested that the author might actually be John Covel (1638-1722), who served as chaplain to the Levant Company at Constantinople from 1670-1677.

Nick McBurney, a London bookseller with an interest in manuscripts and early printing from the Islamic world, suggests that (bearing in mind the vagaries of C17th and C18th spelling!) John Covel – who is also recorded elsewhere as John Covell, Covill and Colvil – could be the author. The pencil inscription was based on an earlier note in ink, and if you look closely at the original ink inscription, the last two lines read “John Coball minister to Sir John finsh / Lord Ambassdore at estumbol”. Constantinople has been known as Istanbul since the tenth century.

Compare the word ‘living’ (first word in the second line), and the ‘v’ is similar enough that the original ‘Coball’ could be ‘Covall’ (second word in the fourth line).

John Covel was a clergyman, botanist, historian and collector, and during his time with the Levant Company he travelled widely and compiled a series of illustrated diaries. From 1688 he served as Master of Christ’s College, Cambridge.

Nick says: “British scholars of Arabic and Turkish were few in the 17th century, and British travellers in the Ottoman world relied on local translators (dragomen) and Italian as a lingua franca. Although Covel is known as a scholar and a collector, he has not been recognised as a scholar of Arabic and Turkish before. The 17th century study of both languages in European circles was restricted to a handful of scholarly communities. The binding is a contemporary Islamic one and he clearly acquired this blank book while in Constantinople. A later owner (perhaps in the 18th century) has added tabs indicating letters of the Arabic alphabet, suggesting this manuscript continued to be used after Covel’s creation of it.”

Photographs reproduced with the permission of Westminster College, Cambridge

The volume was a gift to the English Presbyterian College – predecessor of Westminster College – from Rev. Thomas Robinson in 1888. Further manuscript papers by John Covel are kept in the archives collections at Christ’s College, Cambridge; and the Beinecke at Yale hold a commonplace book of Covel’s which they have digitised (MS Osborn b140).

 

By Helen, Archivist at Westminster College.

 

Samuel | Agnes


Mill Road Cemetery, Cambridge was founded in 1846, to provide more room for burials when the parishes within the city of Cambridge were full. Now full itself, Mill Road Cemetery today is a beautiful and slightly wild spot. It’s still a consecrated churchyard, but is also a nature sanctuary, full of songbirds and blackberries. 

Next to a tall yew bush, Agnes and Samuel Lewis share a gravestone in the shape of a high Celtic cross, carved on all four faces with designs of interlaced knotwork. Their full names are written formally on the foot of the stone at the base, but the simple words Samuel |  Agnes are written, in insular script, at heart height.

Samuel Savage Lewis (1836-1891) was Mrs Lewis’s beloved husband, a Fellow of Corpus Christi and the Parker Librarian; they married in 1887, but he died just over three years later, in 1891. Thirty-five years later, when Agnes, too, died, she was buried by his side.

Agnes Smith Lewis and Margaret Dunlop Gibson, ‘the Sisters of Sinai’, were twins, Biblical scholars, experts in Syriac, discoverers of ancient manuscripts, and two of the most generous benefactors of benefactors of Westminster College in the early twentieth century. They lived together in Cambridge at their house, Castlebrae – five minutes’ walk from the College, and now part of Clare College – and after their husbands had died, they spent their lives together.

But after a lifetime together, both sisters are buried with their husbands: when Margaret died (in 1920) she, too, was buried next to her husband, James Young Gibson (1826-1886), essayist and translator, in Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh.

The website for Mill Road Cemetery Cambridge has much more information about many of the graves, the history of the cemetery, the wildlife, and the art installations there. Check there for more information and to find out about forthcoming events. http://millroadcemetery.org.uk/

Intrepid Adventures In The Desert – Collection Newly Online


Imagine trekking through the desert in Egypt, towards St Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai. It’s 35ºC, you’re riding a camel… and as it’s 1892, you’re wearing – like any other Edwardian lady – boots, a corset, and a very large hat!

‘Mrs Gibson 1892 on camel’. With permission of Westminster College, Cambridge.

Our Sisters of Sinai, the benefactresses of the College, made no fewer than nine trips to Egypt, Greece, and the Holy Land between 1868 and 1906; and just like more modern tourists, they took plenty of photographs of their travels.

 Following a project to digitise our collection of their travel photographs, high-quality digital images have just been made available via the Digital Library at CUL. There are almost 300 photographs of landscapes and people taken by the Sisters on their visits to sites of Biblical interest – mountains and monasteries, tombs and temples – across Egypt, including Sinai and the Nitrian Desert, and also to Jerusalem, modern-day Syria and Jordan, and Greece.

And they show the people the Sisters travelled with – academics, cooks, monks at St Catherine’s – and provide fascinating glimpses into what travelling in Middle East was like for intrepid ladies in the 1890s.

 

St Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai; and a temple in Egypt. Reproduced with permission of Westminster College, Cambridge.
St Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai; and a temple in Egypt. Reproduced with permission of Westminster College, Cambridge.

The originals are lantern slides, which the Sisters used to illustrate their books and talks – just over 3 inches square, they are two pieces of glass sandwiching a photographic image. As well as the travel photographs, Westminster also holds a further collection of over 250 lantern slide images, and 22 albums, of the Sisters’ photographs of manuscripts.

View the whole collection online here.

The Countess of Huntingdon’s Trip to an Exhibition!


“Putting powerful women back in the picture”

Reproduced with the permission of the Trustees of the Cheshunt Foundation, Westminster College, Cambridge.

From this week, the spot on the wall of our library where the painting of The Countess of Huntingdon usually sits, will be empty.

The painting of the Earl and the Countess with their two children by Alexander Soldi, is going off to the Foundling Museum to take part in a major exhibition this autumn.

You can read all about it in these links.

Beacon of Empathy

Putting Powerful Women Back in the Picture


 

THE SHARK ASCENDING

I recently happened upon an interesting image from 1877 entitled “Shark Attacking A Boatman”, in our series of The Children’s Messenger in the library here. It’s an illustration from one of a series of articles by Rev. Archibald Hewan, describing the journey to the Old Calabar Mission, and this one is specifically about “the sharks at Lagos”.

The Children’s Messenger  was a monthly magazine produced by the Presbyterian Church of England for young members, and, as well as moral stories and Bible studies, it included many letters from missionaries describing life in far parts of the world – and the Messenger tried to accompany its articles with illustrations. Nowadays, television and photography and zoos and the internet mean that we are familiar with wildlife from around the world; but it seems pretty clear, looking at this picture from 140 years ago, that it was drawn by someone who had never actually seen a real shark.

This shark has a pointed snout and (rather strangely placed) gills, but the eyes and head are more like those of a seal. Its fins are reminiscent both of the fins of a bony fish, and of the flippers like a sea lion or a walrus- but are nothing like the smooth cartilage fins of a shark. It has a leaf-shaped tail straight out of a Mediaeval bestiary, and strangest of all, it has fur!

Archibald Hewan (1832-1883) was a Jamaican medical missionary to Calabar in Nigeria, appointed in 1854; but the artist is unknown.

The anatomical descriptions in Hewan’s text are very vague, if you don’t already know what a shark looks like: it only says “Look at his flat head. You can’t see his mouth; that is quite under” and later refers to his “great eyes”, “great fins” and “great tail”…though if you look closely, you can see that someone has also told the artist that sharks have more than one row of teeth.

However, if the artist had only heard or read descriptions of sharks before beginning his illustration, then he’s not alone in the task of trying to draw an animal he’s never laid eyes on. Albrecht Durer’s woodcut of an enthusiastically-armoured rhinoceros from 1515 is one of the best known pictures of an animal by an artist who has never seen his subject. Another famous example is George Stubbs’s portrait of a kangaroo, with a very long tail and no pouch, held at the Royal Museums Greenwich, which was based on descriptions given to the artist by Joseph Banks on his return from voyaging with Captain Cook in 1771, and painted soon afterwards. So our shark is in illustrious company!

 

Blog by Helen Weller- Archivist

 

A few words from Peter Ball – Director of Church Resource Development

From the 19th-21st January I was at the URC Youth Assembly running workshops and enjoying the opportunity to meet and share with a host of different people from across the denomination.
The first of the new Westminster College Draw Breath and Reflect Upon days took place on March 24th with the theme of Aspects of the cross. The day was a mixture of reflection, personal space and some input from the leaders of the day.  Various options were offered to help people think about how then cross impacts on their daily lives and then space to develop thinking. The pictures are of one participants response in the form of a painting and a cross that we used as part of reflection in the afternoon.

  

Westminster College, Cambridge; Walking the way into the future

These are exciting times full of new opportunities for all of us. Here at Westminster College, Cambridge, as we look to further develop our role as a Resource Centre for Learning, we’ve created the new role of Director of Church Resource Development – and here I am! We want Westminster to offer relevant courses for today’s church here at the college and be available to work alongside you, sharing the love of Christ where you are.

As part of our commitment to embracing different ways of expressing faith we’ve recently opened our beautiful Art Studio, located in the college grounds here in Cambridge, beside the Prayer Labyrinth, which adds a creative space for quiet reflection or safe messy area for getting the paints out and having fun! Faith is expressed in many different ways and we are looking to provide the space and opportunities for you to explore.


Our new additions complement our freshly refurbished building, stunning chapel, wonderful meeting spaces and great hospitality at prices that may pleasantly surprise you. We can cater for groups great and small from hosting church weekends, URC Synod events, small committee away days or simply a guided retreat week. We have an excellent chance for deep reflection and personal study called “In the Company Of” (you can read more about that at our website) ideal for a quiet reading week or as part of a ministerial sabbatical.

Alongside our full and part time students training for ministry we run numerous courses, such as Quiet Days, themed Biblical conferences, residential Lay Preacher weeks and can provide some exciting interfaith conversations all aimed at feeding and building faith and resourcing people for service and ministry. We are working on some all age events for 2018 and our teaching staff can be found at churches up and down the country, sharing their knowledge and experiences in a variety of ways. We’re seeking to build a resource area on our website for anyone to access which we envisage will host a selection of worship resources. And of course, if you call or email us, we offer reduced B&B rates for Church members if you’d simply like to visit Cambridge!

As we look to further develop our role as a Resource Centre for Learning for the United Reformed Church we are aiming to offer new and varied opportunities for everyone. I would welcome the chance to have a conversation with you to discuss how Westminster might play its part in serving you, your churches and the Synods.

You can reach me, Revd Peter Ball, on pb694@cam.ac.uk or call our Reception team on 01223 33 06 30.

Interview time…

Thursday 6th and Friday 7th April see us holding interviews for the Director of Studies in Church History and Doctrine.

As many of you will be aware, Revd Dr John Bradbury has accepted a call to be the new minister at Emmanuel, Duxford and Whittlesford URC. He has served at Westminster College and the Cambridge Theological Federation for almost 10 years and will be sorely missed when he vacates his position here at Westminster later in the summer.

We are therefore seeking a new member of teaching staff to fill his role as and the Director of Studies in Church History and Doctrine. The candidates arrived yesterday afternoon and have joined with the community here until later today.

Please hold John, the candidates, and the interview panel in your thoughts and prayers as we seek to discern Gods will.

Guest Blog: Called to Risk by Grace

Alex Clare-Young, one of our students and an ardent blogger, has kindly shared the below piece with us;

As a second year student at Westminster College, I am starting to explore my faith and calling in new ways. In particular, I am getting back in touch with my artistic side! You will be able to tell from the image that I am sharing with you that I am no professional artist. Faith and vocation, however, sometimes just can’t be explained in words alone.

This picture was inspired by my classmate Stephen, as he shared words about calling with us as part of his assessed service. What is it really like, then, to find ourselves here? Well, I can’t answer for everyone, but this is what it is like for me.

I am invited to unending change. Ministers are called to grow and to learn for life. The Church grows and learns and changes and shifts, particularly in our post-post-modern (???) age! Formation and ministry are not static. Change overflows!

My lips, heart and mind are set on fire and I am called to take this flame to others. I read Scripture and wonder what it is like to be touched on the lips by a burning coal, or to see a bush that burns but is not consumed, or to be refined like a precious metal. It all sounds a bit extreme… But it is what formation feels like. I am constantly challenged, burnished, polished, melted, passionately on fire for what I believe in. We are burned but not consumed, and we must not hide the flames.

Like all Christians, in fact like all people, I am welcomed, pardoned, cleansed, promised transformation. Both in this community and by the grace of God I am welcomed as the whole truth of who I.  I am pardoned when I mess up, say something stupid, offend someone, misunderstand the gospel or cause separation instead of inspiring wholeness.

I am invited to proclaim a dangerous, maverick, radical message that has cost many their lives and has the power to break down walls. And I am called to do this whatever the risk.

I am called in You and You in me. In all of this change, fire, welcome, promise, truth and brokenness God meets us and we meet God.

So what is it like to be here? Does this blog clarify anything? Probably not. It is indescribable. What I want to leave you with, though, is this: I am privileged to be called, I am privileged to be here but… but God does not call me to speak from my places of privilege but out of my places of oppression and for and with all those who have been marginalised. Thanks be to God.

New plaque commemorates Westminster’s refurbishment

We’re delighted to announce that we’ve got a new brass plaque at Westminster! It commemorates our refurbishment and renovation project, which was completed in 2014, and thanks all the individuals, congregations, Synods, the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church, and other donors who made the refurbishment possible. It’s in the Entrance Hall, in pride of place next to the plaque marking the opening of Westminster College in Cambridge in 1899.

On the table below the plaque lies a bible and a book of our student photographs dating back to the 1880s. Above them all is a stained glass window showing the burning bush, the symbol of the Presbyterian Church of England; and the coats of arms of Mrs Gibson and Mrs Lewis, the twin sisters who were our most generous benefactors when the college was built. There’s even a tiny hare – namesake of the architect, Henry Hare.

Come and admire our new addition to the College, and see how some of the key strands in the history of Westminster are brought together here!