LIFE AND MIRACLES OF ST GÄBRÄ MÄNFÄS QEDDUS, in Ge'ez, DECORATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[Ethiopia, first half 18th century]
215 x 250mm. ii + 216 leaves: 1-28, 34, 4-68, 77(of 8, vii cancelled), 8-108, 115(of 6, v cancelled), 12-198, 2010, 21-278, 286, prickings visible in outer margins, two columns of twelve lines written in black ink in a large, elegant gwelh hand, some later additions or corrections in a neat, smaller hand, between four verticals and twelve horizontals ruled in blind, justification: 158 x 162mm, rubrics in red, FIFTY-ONE LARGE MINIATURES, THE MAJORITY FULL-PAGE, each with red double-ruled border, painted in red, yellow, green, dark blue, purple and white, with accompanying descriptive text, each with protective cotton curtain (some light surface abrasion with occasional small losses to pigments). Original leather over wooden boards, the covers elaborately tooled in blind (corners worn with loss to leather).
The owner of the manuscript appears in the opening miniature, lying beneath the Trinity, and is identified in the accompanying text as Sorehya Wälättä He[y]wät ('How Aqlesya [the mother of Gabra Manfas Qeddus] beseeched the Trinity to grant her a son... How Sorehya, the owner of the book, worshipped [them]'). A short text written on the front endleaf in a different hand is a plea from Sorehya, to Abba Gäbrä Mäsqäl, for him not to forget her in his prayers, and tells him that she is childless. It is curious however, that Sorehya's name appears elsewhere inserted over erased names in several dedicatory phrases, although the use of the feminine still indicates a female dedicatee. The names of other family members appear throughout, including Sorehya's husband, Gäbrä Giyorgis, and a genealogy has been added in a later hand which contains the names Gäbrä Mäsqäl and Gäbrä Täklä Haymanot. It has been suggested that the former was Sorehya's chaplain, who had his and others' names added later, sometimes over Sorehya's name.
The name of the scribe, Bäträ Giyorgis, appears on f.214v; although the style of the gwelh hand dates from the mid-17th to the mid-18th centuries, the hand here shows characteristics of scripts dated after 1700.
The Life of St Gäbrä Mänfäs Qeddus ('Servant of the Holy Spirit') ff.1-158; followed by the saint's fourteen most important miracles, ff.158v-215; ending with an extended invocation of blessings upon 'the scribe, the donor, reader, interpreter and the listener'; genealogy f.216.
Also known as Abbo, St Gäbrä, one of the most revered saints in the Ethiopian church, was said to have been born in Upper Egypt, to have lived for 562 years in the desert and to have come to Mount Zeqwala in Ethiopia, where he lived 'naked and neither drinking water nor eating food' for another 652 years. He is associated with the taming of wild beasts, and on his death, c.1400, his eight lions and eight leopards, with whom he is usually depicted, wept.
A particularly fine example of manuscript painting from the Gondarene period, dating from the first half of the 18th century, with a highly characteristic palette and style.
The subjects of the miniatures and accompanying texts are as follows: f.4v Trinity, with beasts of the four Evangelists, and dedicatee; f.5 'How the Holy Spirit in the guise of a priest announced the good news to Aqlésya that she would bear a son'; f.7v 'Aqlésya': a group of figures present a naked child, 'How Our Father Gäbrä Mäfäs Qeddus was born'; 'How Gabriel carried the child on his wings'; f.8 'How Gabriel took the child and gave him to the Abbot'; f.10 'How St Gabriel took the child up into heaven'; f.10v Christ stoops to present the child to the Virgin Mary, 'how Our Saviour kissed the child on the mouth, together with His Mother and all the saints'; f.14v the saint dressed in white hair addresses Christ, 'How Our Saviour gave him the power to heal the sick and clothed him in hair'; f.15 'How Our Father... healed the sick and how 8 lions and 8 leopards followed him'; f.20 the saint, with arms raised, surrounded by lions and leopards, 'How he was assiduous in prayer like the angels'; f.27v 'How the beasts of the wilderness paid him homage'; f.43v Trinity, with angels below rescuing souls from the flames, the saint standing to the right, 'How he obtained authority from the Trinity and brought the souls out of Hell'; f.44 the saint, inverted and under water, 'How he entered the sea and the fish ate him because of the people of Ethiopia', to the right, the saint before Christ and angels, 'How Our Lord rescued him from death and pardoned the people of Ethiopia for his sake'; f.66 Above, 'How Satan came to him in the guise of a raven and took out his eyes as he stood praying', below, 'How Abba Samu'el, Abba Anbäs and Abba Benyam came to him'; f.66v 'How they admonished the lions to spit out the saints' lions and how they spat them out and the saints were astonished'; f.79 a seated figure addresses a group, to the right, a flowering plant 'How the sinful priest transmitted holy mysteries to the people'; f.79v 'How the hermit asked Our Father for a priest's s'ägay'; f.80 'How the angel bound the priest as he was coming out of the church'; f.98 Trinity; f.100 'How the hermit told the sick man who came to him, "Lie down and sleep where Our Father Gäbrä Mänfäs Qeddus is to be found" and he lay down and was cured'; f.100v 'How he prayed at the edge of the sea'; f.113 'How King David played his harp (krar) for him that he might rejoice at the hearing of it'; f.113v 'How the angels carried a tabernacle of light from him as a canopy everywhere that he went'; f.124 The saint is carried by a group of priests, 'How he officiated as priest at the Eucharist in the new church and all the vessels and officiants were heavenly, and how the Holy Spirit came down in the form of a dove'; f.130v 'how the monks wept in grief when they heard the news of his death, and now one monk admonished them that they should not weep for him'; f.131 'How he stood in the midst of paradise before the Lord of Glory'; f.140v 'How our Lord commanded the angels to descend at the moment of his death'; f.141 'how the angels descended with torches', and below, 'How he died'; f.153v 'How the angels bore him up'; 'How they buried him in Jerusalem'; f.158 Above, 'How the sinful monk heard the Life of Our Father on his feast day and determined to celebrate his commemoration', below, a panel with the text 'O God of Our Father Gäbräs Mänfäs Qeddus, have mercy on me'; f.158v 'How he prayed to Our Lord on behalf of the monk', 'How the angel brought the monk out of Hell', and 'How he died', illustrating the miracle of the corrupted monk; f.161v 'How the monk advised the woman to celebrate his commemoration'; f.162 the miracle of the demoniac woman, 'How she was able to drag him away on her own', 'How Our Father drew the demon out of her in the guise of an ape', and 'How the people of the country were unable to drag the demon away'; f.165 'How the lion killed the robber of the good widow', 'How the second robber was alarmed'; f.170 'How he brought the serpent out of the woman', and 'How they killed the serpent'; f.176 'How the two women licked the Book of his Life, one barren, the other the nun who was caught in adultery'; f.175v 'How the nun confessed her sin before the abbot', and 'How they flogged the monk who accused her'; f.178v 'How the hawk took the man's ma'täb [neck-cord]' and below, 'How the hawk died'; f.182v 'How he revived the child of the woman who celebrated his commemoration from death at the precipice', and 'How the children died beneath the precipice'; f.183 'How the children were revived', and 'How the child returned to his mother and told her of the entire miracle'; f.185 'How her son died', and 'How he was revived and emerged from inside the jar'; f.190 'How he beseeched Our Lord to grant him those who celebrate his commemoration'; f. 190v composite miniature with 5 scenes: six birds bearing letters which read 'thunderbolts', 'How he took the soul of that man alone', 'how the demons were put to shame', how the saints were amazed', 'how he died'; f.195v 'How Satan in the guise of a man deceived the poor man telling him, "I shall give you gold" and then killed him'; f.196 'How he beseeched Our Lord on behalf of the apostate pauper', 'How the demons in hell chastised him', 'How the angel revived him'; f.199 'how the lion and the leopard protected the cow and the sheep'; f.199v 'How the lion and the leopard took the sheep and the cow to the church'; f.202 'How the cockerel came out of the belly of the thief' and 'how the thief died'; f.206 'how the men of the parish association slaughtered that woman's cow'; f.206v 'how she found the cow suckling its calf'; f.214v Christ with two cherabim, 'O my Lord, Saviour of the World, the children of Gäbrä Mäsqäl Habtua Maryam and Kidanä Wuald worship Thee through the prayers of Our Father Gäbrä Mänfäs Qeddus'; f.215 'How the whole of creation praised him and listened to him on account of his holiness'.