The Chester Beatty in Dublin has launched a new website offering online access to thousands of rare books, manuscripts and decorative arts.

High resolution images have been taken of 2,000 of the fragile items, which were left to the State by collector Alfred Chester Beatty in 1968.

The artefacts from Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Asia, dating back thousands of years, are part of the world-renowned collections on display in the museum in Dublin Castle.

They can now be viewed in a new way on www.chesterbeatty.ie

To support the digitisation project, the Chester Beatty set up a state-of-the-art imaging laboratory to carry out the work of capturing the images, with a new level of detail.

They can be downloaded for non-commercial use, free of charge.

The material includes the Biblical Papyri, the oldest surviving copy of all four gospels, which dates back to the second century.

Up to 20,000 more images are set to be added to the online catalogue.

The Chester Beatty has said, as well making the collections more accessible to the public, it is hoped the new website will encourage more people to visit the museum in person.