Sunday, October 3, 2010

World's oldest christian illustrated manuscript found in Ethiopia

World's oldest christian illustrated manuscript found in Ethiopia
Guardian/ANI | July 6, 2010

A coloured manuscript found in a remote Ethiopian monastery could be the oldest illustrated Christian work in the world, experts have claimed.

The 1,600 year-old texts are named after a monk, Abba Garima, who arrived in Ethiopia in the fifth century.

Legend has it they were created in a day after God intervened to delay the sunset. Today, a British charity revealed how it had worked to save the Garima Gospels and set out evidence suggesting they may form one of the earliest surviving illustrated Christian manuscripts.

Kept at the remote monastery of Abuna Garima, near Adwa, in northern Ethiopia, the two volumes had become fragile. But an Anglo-French team of specialists sponsored by the Ethiopian Heritage Fund travelled there to preserve them.

The gospels are named after Abba Garima, a monk who arrived in Ethiopia in the fifth century. The story goes that, with God's assistance, he copied the four gospels in a day. In the 1960s specialists studied them and concluded they were created around 1100. Later, however, a French specialist in Ethiopian art took two fragments to Oxford and one was dated to the fifth century.

But the gospels were in poor condition. An Anglo-French team was put together, including Gloucestershire bookbinder and manuscript conservator Lester Capon, who described how his breath was taken away when he saw the "beautifully bright colours" of the illuminated pages. "I'd seen photos when I was preparing for this work, but seeing this book in real life was astonishing. It was big – you could fell an ox with it – it was beautiful, the colours were vibrant. But the condition was poor. It had the look of a burst mattress."

He set up his "bindery" in the monastery courtyard, which attracted the attention of monkeys. "I kept an eye on them as I was fearful that one may jump down from the roof, grab a folio, scrunch it up and run off down the hill."

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 text was thought to be medieval but carbon dating has taken it back to the 5th century AD.

Originally thought to be from around the 11th century, new carbon dating techniques place the Garima Gospels between 330 and 650 AD.

"The monks believe that the book has the magical powers of a holy text. If someone is ill they are read passages from the book and it is thought to give them strength. Although the monks have always believed in the legend of Abba Garima the new date means it could actually be true," the Telegraph quoted Mark Winstanley, who helped to carry out the conservation, as saying.

The team only had time to conserve the illuminated pages. Blair Priday, of the London-based Ethiopian Heritage Fund, said the story of the gospels was "magical", with nobody knowing where fact and fiction met. Photo:

The Ethiopian Heritage Fund has conserved the vividly illustrated pages and it is hoped that the two volumes will be made available to visitors to the monastery, which is in discussions to start a museum there. --ANI

Source: The Guardian


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