Monday, 8 October 2012

The Garima Gospels

The 11th September marked the Ethiopian New Year celebrations, so it seemed timely to have a post about the discovery of some very rare Ethiopian gospels. First reported in 1950 by the British art historian Beatrice Playne, the Garima Gospels may be the world’s earliest illustrated Christian manuscript.

The gospels, written probably on goat skin, were found and are still located at a remote Ethiopian monastery (Abba Garima Monastery). The Garima Gospels were previously assumed to date from about 1100 AD, but radiocarbon dating conducted at the Oxford University Research Laboratory for Archaeology suggests a date between 330 and 650 AD.

Ref: An 1890s Italian map of Adwa, showing Abba Garima Monastery and other notable places, Wikimedia Commons
Even if the manuscripts are dated to 600 AD, which might be more accurate on stylistic grounds, this would still make them amongst the earliest surviving illustrated Christian manuscripts. The oldest known dated manuscripts are the Rabbula Gospels in Syria, completed in 586 AD and now housed in the Laurentian Library in Florence. Find out more.

The Sir George Grey Special Collections holds Eastern Manuscripts from 16-19th C, including Ethiopic Christian religious texts.

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