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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Ethiopia, Europe and Collegeville: Cultural Encounters Across Four Centuries

Exhibit on Ethiopia, Europe and Collegeville--at the
Hill Museum & Manuscript Library until late April.

Ethiopia, Europe and Collegeville: Cultural Encounters across Four Centuries

The ancient cultures of Ethiopia have been influential for centuries. Already from the time of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, Ethiopia (or Abyssinia in earlier traditions) has fascinated the outside world. Ethiopia was home to a highly developed Christian culture long before most European nations had become Christian. Over the centuries, the country became home to Jewish, Christian, Islamic, and nativist communities.

A renewed European interest in Ethiopia developed in the 15th and 16th centuries, often confusing Ethiopian with Chaldean and Indian cultures and languages. Many also believed Ethiopia to be the home of the legendary “Prester John.” At the same time, the presence of Ethiopian monks at the church of Santo Stefano dei Mori in Rome also gave impetus to nascent scholarly interests.

Dr. Getatchew Haile with a copy of the
EMML Catalogue.
Ethiopia came to Collegeville in 1973 through a visit by Abuna Theophilos, the patriarch of the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church. Communications between the Library and the Ethiopian church had been promoted by Dr. Walter Harrelson of Vanderbilt University. He saw potential advantages for a broader approach to Ethiopic studies in the Library’s practice of photographic preservation—thus leaving the original manuscripts in their homeland.

Microfilming began there in 1973 and continued through many years of political and social strife. With patient and meticulous scholars like William Macomber and Getatchew Haile cataloging the microfilms, HMML quickly became known as one of the chief repositories and centers for Ethiopian studies.

Today, HMML has assembled the largest collection of Ethiopian manuscript materials in the world—at least in photographs (especially in the EMML collection). The Library’s work in Africa has expanded to include manuscript digitization projects in Egypt and Mali.

Case 1:

Bandlet of Righteousness [Lǝfafä Ṣǝdǝq]. 20th century.

The Bandlet of Righteousness is a collection of prayers that can be in a codex manuscript (like this one) or a scroll. It is usually buried with the person who has died, and thus can act as “sort of a passport to heaven” (HMML catalog). A living person might also carry it as an amulet. It represents a re-working of the Egyptian Book of the Dead that places special emphasis on the Virgin Mary’s role as intercessor for the deceased. Only she can obtain—with the help of her Son—the secret Book of Life, which accompanies the soul on the way to the Underworld.

SJU Ms. Or. E 10 from the Saint John's Rare Book Collection.
Given to HMML in 1979 by Dr. Robert A. Coughenour.
Unique pouch for the Bandlet of Righteousness.

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Seven-Day Prayers. [uncataloged]

Collection of prayers, some by Ephrem. The manuscript also includes miniatures of St. George, the Virgin Mary with Jesus, St. Michael, and St. Gabriel.

Manuscript codex on parchment. HMML Henze Ms. 6, the HMML Rare Book
Collection. Given to HMML by the family of Paul M. Henze.

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Johann Georg Schreiber (1676-1750). Atlas selectus von allen Königreichen und Ländern der Welt, zum bequemen Gebrauch in Schulen, auf Reisen und beij dem Lesen der Zeitungen verfertiget und in Kupffer gestochen von Johann George Schreibern. Leipzig, 1750 (?).

In this 18th-century map of Africa, Ethiopia appears as a very large area of yellow just to the east of the center of the continent. Today Ethiopia is a much smaller, land-locked region in the Horn of Africa. 

18th-century map of Africa from an atlas in the
Saint John's Rare Book Collection.

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An Ethiopian Manuscript Microfilming Program. A Joint Venture of Vanderbilt University Divinity School …, Hill Monastic Manuscript Library …, and the Ethiopian Manuscript Microfilm Library. Collegeville, 1976.

Prompted by Professor Walter Harrelson from Vanderbilt University, Dr. Julian G. Plante directed HMML’s preservation microfilming to Ethiopia. In 1973 the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Abuna Theophilos, visited Saint John’s and received the Pax Christi award. HMML started microfilming in Ethiopia in 1973. Today the EMML collection holds over 8000 manuscripts in microfilm and digital facsimiles. Over 6000 of these microfilms have been cataloged over the past four decades.

Dr. Walter Harrelson and Dr. Julian G. Plante
meeting with Emperor Haile Selassie in 1972.
HMML Photo files.

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The Miracles of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Life of Hannâ (Saint Anne), and the Magical Prayers of A̕hĕta Mîkâêl: the Ethiopic Texts … London: W. Griggs, 1900.

Edited by E. A. Wallis Budge (1857-1934), who prided himself as a popularizer of Ethiopian culture. This massive volume presents important manuscripts of legends and miracles related to the Virgin Mary, with facsimile, edition and translation. The original manuscripts belonged to Lady Meux (1847-1910) and probably come from the 17th or 18th century. The collections of these miracles vary widely across the manuscript tradition. William Macomber collected references to over 600 such narratives in the Ethiopian tradition.

Case 1, with the Miracles of the Blessed Virgin
on the lower shelf.

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Case 2:

Ethiopia Comes to Europe

Already in the 15th century Ethiopians were travelling to Europe and by the end of that century, a church adjacent to St. Peter’s Basilica was reserved for the use of visiting Ethiopians: Santo Stefano dei Mori. Over the next two centuries, several European scholars and clergy—including Johann Potkin, Marianus Victorius, Jacobus Wemmers, and Hiob Ludolf—were inspired to study the language and culture of East Africa through the holiness of this community.

From the supplement to Hiob Ludolf's Historia Aethiopica (1691).
Saint John's Rare Books.
Already in 1513 Johann Potkin published the first Ethiopic-language book —appropriately a Psalter—in Rome. Five years later he issued a polyglot Psalter in Ethiopic, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. About four decades later, Marianus Victorius published the first grammar of Ethiopic. The first dictionaries of Gǝʿǝz appeared in the 17th century, when a more scholarly approach to Ethiopic studies was promoted by Hiob Ludolf.

European fascination with Ethiopia continued into the 18th and 19th centuries, with many reports from travelers to these regions—including Antonio Zucchelli, James Bruce, Henry Salt, and others.

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Marianus Victorius (1518-1572). Zentu maṣḥafa temhert zalesam Geʿez zāyessammay Kalédawi ḥaddisa sera̓t tagabra kama yetmahharu e̓lla i̓ya a̓mmeru śannāy wee̓tu tagabra: Chaldeae seu Aethiopicae linguae institutiones. Romae: Typis Sac. Congregationis de Propaganda Fide, MDCXXX [1630]

This is the first printed grammar for Gǝʿǝz, or classical Ethiopic, although the reference to Chaldean in the title is anachronistic. Sponsored by Pope Paul III, the book represents the Roman Church’s renewed interest in Ethiopic studies. Originally published by Marianus Victorius (Mariano Vittori) in 1552; this 1630 reprint was edited by Achille Venerio, omitting a list of Ethiopian kings and a section on music. Here we see an excerpt in Latin and Gǝʿǝz of the beginning of the Gospel of John.

The opening of the Gospel of John. Arca Artium Collection.


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Jacobus Wemmers (1598-1645). Lexicon Æthiopicvm ... cum eiusdem linguae institutionibus grammat. & indice vocum Latinarum. Romæ: Typis & Impensis Sac. Congreg. de Propaganda Fide, 1638.

Born in Antwerp, Jacobus Wemmers became a member of the Carmelite Order and studied in Rome, possibly with the scholars at Santo Stefano dei Mori. His lexicon of the Ethiopic language was the first such study published. It is unclear whether Wemmers ever visited Ethiopia himself. He was sent by the Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide on a mission to re-establish the Catholic Church’s mission in Ethiopia in 1640, but details concerning this trip are lacking.

An Ethiopic grammar and two lexical works from the 17th century.

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Hiob Ludolf (1624-1704). Lexicon aethiopico-latinum: exomnibus libris impressis, nonnullisque manuscriptis collectum ; et cum docto quodam Aethiope relectum. Accessit authoris Grammatica, cum aliis nonullis quorum catalogum sequens pagina exhibebit. Londini : T. Roycroft, 1661.

Hiob Ludolf (or Job Leutholf) was the most important 17th-century scholar for Ethiopian studies and is credited with converting it into an academic discipline. He published widely on Ethiopian history and language. This volume (published in London by the printer of the London Polyglot) contains both an Ethiopic-Latin dictionary and an Ethiopic grammar. As with Wemmers, Ludolf’s interest in Ethiopic was kindled by his acquaintance with the community at Santo Stefano dei Mori in Rome, especially abba Gorgoryos, who became one of Ludolf’s primary sources.


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Hiob Ludolf (1624-1704). Iobi Ludolfi aliàs Leut=holf dicti Historia Aethiopica: sive brevis & succincta descriptio regni Habessinorum, quod vulgò malè Presbyteri Iohannis vocatur ... Francofurti ad Moenum [Frankfurt am Main, Germany] : Prostat apud Joh. David Zunner, …, 1681. With the 1691 supplement.

Abba Gorgoryos was the major resource for Ludolf’s major work on the history of Ethiopia, the Historia Aethiopica, published in 1681 (with a supplement added in 1691). Appearing after Ludolf’s retirement from public service, it was published at time when the Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold I, was reaching out to the Ethiopians for support against the expanding Ottoman Empire (including the siege of Vienna in 1683). The supplement includes many folded plates depicting Ethiopian history, culture, and natural resources.

From the supplement to Ludolf's Historia Aethiopica.

From the Saint John's Rare Books Collection.

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Maseḥafa mazemurāte za Dāwite, hoc est, Psalterium Davidis Aethiopice et Latine: cum duobus impressis & tribus MSStis codicibus diligenter collatum & emendatum, nec non variis lectionibus … Francofurti ad Moenum: Prostat apud Johannem David. Zunner. et Nicolaum Wilhelmum Helwig. …, 1701. Edited by Hiob Ludolf.

The Ethiopic Psalter had already been published in 1513 (Rome) and 1518 (Cologne), and Ludolf used these early editions in part for preparing his new edition. The 1701 Psalter appeared in two editions, one with Latin translation for the European market, and one without the Latin translation for free distribution within Ethiopia by traders from the “Indian Company” (Darlow-Moule 3572 and 3573).

Ludolf's 1701 edition of the Ethiopic Psalter. Arca Artium Collection.


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Antonio Zucchelli (1663-1716). Merckwürdige Missions- und Reise-Beschreibung nach Congo in Ethiopien ... [Noteworthy Description of Mission and Travel to the Congo in Ethiopia]. Franckfurt am Mayn: Gleditsch & Weidmann, 1715.

Already in the 17th and 18th centuries, several evangelizing missions were launched by religious orders of the Catholic Church—including ones by the Jesuits, Franciscans, and Dominicans. This work, written by a Capuchin missionary from Austria, was translated from Italian into German. The frontispiece offers an insight into the problematic and condescending early modern views of many Europeans toward Ethiopians and Ethiopia.

Missionary zeal from an 18th-century Capuchin.
From the Saint John's Rare Book Collection.


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James Bruce (1730-1794). Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile in the Years 1768, 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772, and 1773. Edinburgh: Printed by J. Ruthven, for G.G.J. and J. Robinson, Paternoster-row, London, 1790.

The Travels recount Bruce’s attempt to locate the source of the Blue Nile. Included in his account are several details of the cultural life in East Africa, including the trade practices, the languages, the history, etc. French and German translations soon followed. The final volume includes “Specimens of Natural History,” including this engraving of a teff plant, one of the major sources for grains in Ethiopia. Bruce also commissioned the copying of dozens of Ethiopian manuscripts during his visit.

The teff plant with its description. From the Arca Artium Collection.

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Henry Salt (1780-1827). A Voyage to Abyssinia: and Travels into the Interior of that Country, Executed under the Orders of the British Government, in the Years 1809 and 1810. London: F.C. and J. Rivington, 1814.

Salt was an Egyptologist who visited Ethiopia between 1802 and 1806, during extended journeys to the Indies, Sri Lanka, and Egypt. His experiences convinced him of the inaccuracy of James Bruce’s Travels. With the support of the Society for Promoting the Discovery of the Interior Parts of Africa, he traveled to Ethiopia in 1809-1810 with the hope of establishing trade and diplomatic relationships between England and Ethiopia.

An Ethiopian scholar from A Voyage to Abyssinia.
From the HMML Rare Book Collection.


Case 3:

Ethiopian Manuscripts from the Saint John’s and HMML Collections

Over the past four decades, the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library has become internationally famous as a center for Ethiopic studies. Scholars from around the world have come to Collegeville to use the vast microfilm and digital collections of manuscripts in Gǝʿǝz and Amharic. The cataloging expertise of William Macomber and Getatchew Haile was frequently in demand for Ethiopian collections within North America.
William Macomber working at HMML in the 1970's.

As a result, several actual Ethiopian manuscripts have been donated to the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library and to Saint John’s University. Today the Library holds nearly 50 manuscripts in Gǝʿǝz and Amharic, including both scrolls and codex manuscripts. The latest and largest single gift of manuscripts came from the family of Paul M. Henze in 2013.

The original manuscripts allow visitors to HMML to experience the books in ways that photographs cannot support. Codicological studies of each item tell us much about how the books were made (materials, tools and techniques) and their physical condition (with smoky residue, for example) can tell us how they were used.

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Psalter (Dawit) (late 17th century?)

Ethiopian Psalters usually contain much more than just the Biblical psalms and are used for both liturgy and private prayer. In this volume, the Book of Psalms (ff. 3-117) is followed by fifteen Biblical Canticles, the Song of Solomon, the Praises of Mary (Wǝddase Maryam), and the Gate of Light (Anqäṣä Bǝrhan). These additions constitute about one third of the book. Ethiopian Psalters have followed this arrangement of psalms, hymns and prayers since the 14th century.

One of HMML's oldest Psalters. Given by its former
director, Dr. Julian G. Plante.

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Psalter (Dawit) (20th century).

As the daily prayer-book for Ethiopian Christians, the Psalter needs to be portable so that it can be used anywhere at any time. Thus, just like many types of Ethiopian manuscripts, it generally comes with a leather carrying pouch. Not only is the Psalter one of the most frequently copied texts, it has also been central to traditional educational techniques and has even been used for folk medicine and magic.

SJU Ms. Or. E 15 - a 20th-century Psalter.

Textile used as pastedown inside the front cover.

Pouch for Ms. Or. E 15.
Saint John's Rare Book Collection.

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Hymnbook, with musical notation (19th century)

This book contains part of the Common Antiphonary (Mǝʿǝraf) of the Ethiopian Church that contains the chants for the choir. The marks above the lines of text are musical notation. The book is divided into four collections of chants, along with the common of the Divine Office for Sundays (Mǝʿǝrāf za-Mäwäddǝs).

A hymnal with musical notation. SJU Ms. Or. E 2.
Saint John's Rare Book Collection.

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Book of Funeral Rites (uncataloged).

The largest Ethiopian manuscript in the collections at Saint John’s. It contains assorted texts used for funerals. As with the Psalter, it comes with its own carrying pouch.

Flyleaf from Henze Ms. 1, a collection of readings and prayers
for funerals. HMML Rare Book Collection.

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Prayer scroll (19th/20th century).

Prayer scrolls (also called magic scrolls) contain protective prayers copied for a specific owner. As amulets, their protective value comes not in reading the prayers, but in the mere fact of owning the scroll. This particular scroll opens with the picture of an angel at the top, followed by a prayer for the subjugation of a foe, and then prayers against demons, sudden death, pleurisy, colic, evil eye, etc. A second miniature halfway down — shows two angels joined at the feet (one is upside down). Fully unrolled, this scroll would be over six feet long.

Two angels from a prayer scroll. Wenner Ms. 2.
HMML Rare Book Collection. Gift of Louise Wenner.

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Gospel of John (20th century).

Ethiopian manuscripts are generally written on thick parchment sheets and may have simple wooden boards for covers or blind-stamped leather bindings with textile linings. An uncovered binding, such as this one, allows us to see the use of Coptic stitching across the spine. Each gathering of parchment is attached to the stitch with a special looping pattern. This manuscript also has a unique carrying pouch with two nesting halves.

Gospel of John, with carrying pouch. Wenner Ms. 1.
HMML Rare Book Collection. Gift of Louise Wenner.


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Prayer-Book: The Holy Trinity (uncataloged)

The large script in this manuscript demonstrates well the careful ruling that organizes the text on the page. The leaves have clear delineations where a drypoint marker was used to keep the copied text straight. Note also the prickings (holes) along the outer margins that were used to keep the distance between the lines even.

Large script with ruling marks. Henze Ms. 7.
HMML Rare Book Collection.
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Prayer-book (20th century).

Many Ethiopian manuscripts feature blind-stamped leather covers. The blind-stamping provides the opportunity to add symbolic imagery to the outside of the manuscript, like the delicate cross in the center of this front board.

Blind-stamped leather cover (dyed red). Coskran Ms. 1.
HMML Rare Book Collection.

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The Life of Takla Hâymânôt in the Version of Dabra Lîbanôs, and the Miracles of Takla Hâymânôt in the Version of Dabra Lîbânôs, and the Book of the Riches of Kings : The Ethiopic Texts … Edited and translated by Ernest Alfred Wallis Budge. London: Priv. print. for Lady Meux, 1906.

Täklä Haymanot (died 1313?) is given credit for bringing Christianity to much of central and southern Ethiopia, as well as founding Däbrä Libanos, a famous monastery. His miraculous life is recounted in several texts and different recensions, some with roots back to the 14th century. The recension from Däbrä Libanos is the most widely attested. This illustrated version is from Ms. Or. 723 of the British Museum (today British Library).

From the life of Takla Hâymânôt, ed. by E. Wallis Budge.
Arca Artium Collection.


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Case 4:

Girma Belachew. Queen of Sheba’s Journey to Jerusalem.

Japanese mineral color and real gold on goatskin. Wood backing. 1987

Case 4 with a painting of the Queen of Sheba and processional
crosses. The painting was donated by the Rev. Herold
Pavelis and the crosses and sistrum by Franklin H. Williams.

Processional Crosses and a Sistrum


Bookshelf Case:

Masinko (Mäsinqo)

A type of Ethiopian fiddle or lute that is used with a bow. The masinko is found chiefly in southern Eritrea and northern and central Ethiopia. Unlike many of the manuscripts in this exhibit, the masinko is intended more for secular use. It is generally made by hand with goatskin parchment over the sound box, gut strings, and a horsehair bow.

Mäsinqo given to HMML by Dr. Julian G. Plante, who first included
Ethiopia in the Library's preservation mission.


In conclusion, I would like to thank all those who have contributed to the success of HMML's work in Ethiopia and to the preparation of the exhibit "Ethiopia, Europe and Collegeville," both at HMML and overseas:

Tim Ternes prepared the physical exhibit. Wayne Torborg and others provided photographs. Getatchew Haile's and William Macomber's cataloging made this work possible. Walter Harrelson and Julian G. Plante gave the initial impetus to the project. Abuna Theophilos supported the start of the microfilming in the early 1970's. Charles McCabe provided technical direction. Many families and individuals donated manuscripts and artifacts to the HMML collections, including the Wenner family, the Henze family, the Coskran family, Franklin H. Williams, Robert A. Coughenour, and the Rev. Herold Pavelis. I would also like to thank Frank Kacmarcik, whose Arca Artium collection provides many of the items in this exhibit, and whose book funds support the enhancement of the research collections (including the two recently acquired 17th-century Ethiopic lexica and Bruce's Travels).

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Peace to all who have supported HMML's preservation work in Ethiopia.

Matt Heintzelman