A British charity has discovered the world’s first illustrated Christian book at the faraway Garima Monastery in northern Ethiopia.
The oldest illustrated Christian book, called the Garima Gospels, is named after a monk who came to Africa in the fifth century and had reportedly copied out the book in a single day. Under the care of the Ethiopian Heritage Fund, the book’s beautiful and color illustrations have been preserved well, Nazret details.
Ethiopia has been through Muslim and Italian invasions, and a fire destroyed the Garima Monastery’s church in the 1930s. Nevertheless, the Garima Gospels survived all these incidents fairly well.
The monk named Abba Garima came to Ethiopia from Constantinople in 494 AD. Legend has it that he was able to copy out the illustrated gospels in just a day because God delayed the sunset.
According to experts, the Garima Gospels is the first example of book binding that still has the original pages. The monk used goat skin as paper and wrote the content in Ge’ez, an early Ethiopian language.
The British charity found two volumes with the same date, but the second volume bears a different handwriting from the first one. It had been thought that the manuscripts date back to the 11th century at the earliest, but carbon dating puts the date between 330 and 650. Interestingly, these dates overlap the time that Abba Garima arrived in Ethiopia, The Telegraph reports.
It is thought that Abba Garima himself wrote the first volume, and that he did not really finish the task in just one day. Despite the differences in the two manuscripts, both volumes contain illustrations and the four Gospels. It also contains what could be the earliest Christian drawing of a building, which is the Temple of the Jews.
Mark Winstanley, who is one of the people who helped preserve the Garima Gospels, said the monks believe that the manuscript has magical powers. They read passages from the old book if someone is sick.
As of now, it is hoped that the Garima Gospels will be opened to visitors for viewing at the monastery. The Garima Monastery is reportedly planning to build a museum there.