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Article: African Visions of Mary

מריה האתיופית חוזרת לירושלים

African Visions of Mary

Shay Eshel

In 1838, the French adventurer and renowned geographer Antoine d’Abbadie (1810–1897) came upon a magnificent sixteenth-century manuscript: an Ethiopian prayer book dedicated to the Virgin Mary (Arganon). Written in the holy Ge`ez language and decorated with beautiful iconography of Mary with the child Jesus, it also contains illustrations of Saint George killing the dragon and other expressive and colorful examples of Ethiopian religious art. D’Abbadie was so impressed by the manuscript that, despite its unusual weight and size, he took it with him on his travels throughout Ethiopia, making it “my pillow when sleeping on the bare ground and my seat when breaking my unleavened bread with the Ethiopian, the Shaho and the Badawi.” 

On a short visit to Rome, before returning to Ethiopia, d’Abbadie presented the manuscript to Lord Hugh Clifford, an enthusiastic collector. The rare manuscript passed through several hands before its incorporation into the collection of the National Library. One can only presume that the original Ethiopian scribe and illuminator of this manuscript would have been more than happy to know that their work of art had found its way to Jerusalem, the origin of Ethiopian religious and national identity. For Jerusalem is the place where, according to Ethiopian tradition, King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba fell in love with each other’s wisdom and spent one last night together, conceiving the first emperor of the centuries-old Ethiopian Solomonic dynasty.