These are two illuminated gospel books were made between 300-700 AD at Abba Garima Monastery in Ethiopia.
The Garima Gospels contain twenty eight full-page illuminations; each one bursting with color. The remarkably extant book covers are decorated with gold, silver, and holes where gems had been placed.
According to the oral history of the monastery, the manuscripts were scribed and illustrated by Abba Garima himself in the 490s AD. Thus, the Garima Gospels were acknowledged by the monks as being extremely old and religiously valuable.
The handful of Western scholars who managed to venture to Abba Garima Monastery upon their inspection of the manuscripts suspected some Mediterranean influence, but concluded that the illuminations were within a firmly conventional and uninteresting style of 12th-14th century Ethiopian painting.
It was not until 2000, when the French scholar Jaques Mercier brought fragments of the manuscripts’ parchment to Oxford University for radiocarbon dating, that the Garima Gospels were pushed into the international spotlight as one of the oldest (and most well preserved) illuminated gospel books.
Now, the Garima Gospels are considered one of the artistic wonders of the world: a priceless treasure from the ancient world preserved in the most unlikely of places.
The difficulty of actually seeing these extraordinary manuscripts–many of them are hoarded away in the mountain monasteries of Ethiopia–has kept the art historical community from bringing to light what could be a vast and beautiful strain of Late Antique painted religious books.
Additionally, it was not until scholars found a possible connection that the manuscripts shared with the “Western tradition” that they decided it was worthy of actually being looked at!
The Garima Gospels are both heartening and frustrating in this regard…