Yesterday (6 Feb 2013) was my last full day in Ethiopia, and I wasn’t thrilled with my guide’s plan for the afternoon: a trip to another ancient church. This one was located in the countryside. Luckily, I decided to go.
After an enjoyable one-hour drive over rough up-and-down roads, we arrived at the ancient church. The outside of the church was disappointingly surrounded by scaffolding that supported a temporary roof (protection from rain and subsequent water seepage). The inside of the church was poorly lit and its wall paintings (frescoes) were severely damaged by time and water seepage.
After a brief explanation by my guide of the major frescoes, the Ethiopian Orthodox priest who was accompanying us disappeared behind a curtain. He reappeared dressed in his priestly robes and with a staff topped by a crucifix.
We adjourned outside for the some photographs. After we had taken a couple, I tipped him. I only had big bills, so the contribution was generous. Suddenly the priest became quite animated. He wanted to show me an old book. I thought “sure, why not?” The calligraphy would be beautiful; written Ethiopian is very unique.
The priest came back with a large, almost square, book with wooden covers and goat-skin pages. The first page I was shown was beautifully illustrated, reminiscent of medieval manuscript illuminations.
As it turned out, every page had beautiful illustrations. The best I could determine, the manuscript concerned the life and miracles associated with St. Mary, the mother of Christ. I was told that the book was 700-years old. I certainly couldn’t prove them wrong.
The book had about 20 pages and was bound with coarse thread or string along the left border. It had been cataloged because there were markers on some of the pages.
I’m not sure how old the book really is. But for me, I was thrilled just to see it. I couldn’t have been happier if I was in the Louvre. The illustrations were colorful and finely executed. The symbolism and images were very intriguing.
The priest carefully leafed through the book and we photographed each page.