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New home for ancient manuscripts

Where do you find the world’s oldest Christian manuscripts? Specialists say that they are in Ethiopia.Two illustrated gospels that date to fifth-century found in the Abba Gerima monastic complex, seven kilometers away from the northern town of Adwa, are possibly the earliest surviving illustrated Christian manuscripts, according to experts.The rare treasures that represent a unique survival of an early Christian text in Ethiopia, predating all others by more than 500 years, are hoped to make the Abba Gerima monastery one of the country’s main touristic attractions. A museum is now under construction on the site to preserve the treasures and scheduled to open June 2012.
Jacques Mercier, a French specialist in Ethiopian religious art and a champion of the project, says that with the completion of the museum, the vividly illustrated page would be put in a good condition and will be available for visitors. “We are trying to help the monastic community. They have very special collections. They have two important manuscripts until recently undated. Now they are dated. It happens that they could be the oldest manuscripts with Christian subjects still extinct in the world,” he said speaking at a recent conference at Alliance Ethio-Française.

The books were written on goat skin in the early Ethiopian language of Ge’ez and are thought to be the earliest example of book binding still attached to the original pages. Illustrations of the saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are all included in the book along with what may be the first ever Christian illustration of a building, the Temple of the Jews.
The rare manuscript would boost interest in the museum, and potentially the value of its collection.The museum is being constructed by the Patriarchate of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and is financed by the French Embassy in Addis Ababa. It is organized with good storage, adequate space and protection. Most parts are completed, including the showcases for the manuscripts which were made by Dan Techno Craft PLC. For safety reasons, iron will be installed on the window of the museum and the room will be dark so that the manuscripts would not be damaged by electric light. The museum will have a nearby house for a guard, and ticket office.
Local tradition and radiocarbon dating link the manuscript to the time of Abba Gerima, who established the monastery in 494, in the time of King Kaleb. Originally from Constantinople, Aba Gerima, along with other eight saints greatly influenced the course of religious thought through his writings, contributing to the development of Ethiopian Orthodoxy. According to tradition, Abba Garima wrote and illustrated the complete Gospels in a single day; God stopped the sun from setting until the Saint completed his work.
The Abba Gerima gospels have never left the monastery. Although the Gospels were in the catalog of an American museum exhibition that toured from 1993–96, African Zion: the Sacred Art of Ethiopia, they were never lent to the exhibition.
In the 1960s specialists studied the manuscripts and concluded they were created around 1100. Later, however, Jacques Mercier took two fragments to Oxford University and one was dated to the fifth century.
The gospels were recently conserved by Anglo-French team, sponsored by the Ethiopian Heritage Fund. The conservationist had faced challenging conditions, and work had to be done outdoors, with two funeral biers serving as tables. Jacque Mercier said that there are only six manuscripts in the Christian world that dates to the six century. “So in Ethiopia you have two and they are the most complete. The other one are only fragments,” he explains.
There will be many other prized possessions in the museum, such as two silver plated processionals cross that date back to the 14th century as well as a silver plated chalice, which, according to Mercier, “probably the best and the most sophisticated chalices in Ethiopia.”

  1. May 11, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    The said manuscripts indeed exist in Ethiopia but doesn’t mean that others must confirm it or steal as usual bcus It’s their own mystic spiritual treasure inherited it from THE MAKER OF THE UNIVERS so now if smugglers wish to tamper with it , be consumed by fire . Never try ha !

  2. Barry Gardner
    July 27, 2012 at 12:22 am

    I am not surprised at finding as Ethiopia is a mystery in the hands of God, for in the beginning was the word, and the word was God, there in Ethiopia is the Garden of Eden and the first man was created, and he saw that it was not good for man to be alone, so woman was created from a rib of Adam, and that was good. We have the Arc of the Covenant, and the Lineage of King David and King Solomon and the Queen Of Sheba, truly, Africa is a blessed place on the earth.I hope and pray that I may visit Ethiopia and see the manuscript with my eyes, God Bless Ethiopia and its people, One Love, Barry.

  3. Kathleen Eleanor McQuillen II
    May 31, 2013 at 11:47 am

    I am the owner of the Gospel of John that my Father found in Ethiopia during WWII. I have a letter confirming his ownership in 1945 by way of a letter from the University of Chicago. The manuscript was confirmed a few years ago to be written in Ge’ez by the Library of Congress. I have been and am still trying to get it appraised but no one here in the U.S. seems to be able to help me any advice would be greatly appreciated

  4. Blen Taye
    June 5, 2013 at 7:46 am

    @ Kathleen,

    How did your father manage to become the owner of this Gospel of John? In many cases they are stolen from Ethiopia from unsuspecting priests by foreigners. Can you really prove that he got this book by legal means? As far as i know this documents were not sold in during the WWII.

  5. Merid
    October 9, 2013 at 5:49 am

    I believe the manuscript cosidered as world heritage to be visited by all.

  1. May 7, 2012 at 3:00 pm

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