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Windsor Castle manuscripts (6)

Six magnificently illustrated ecclesiastical manuscripts from Maqdala are currently part of the Queen of England's personal collection in the Royal Library in Windsor Castle.

They were part of the original haul of manuscripts given to the British Museum in the aftermath of the campaign. Museum staff selected the six most beautiful volumes and presented them to Queen Victoria.

Prof Richard Pankhurst, AFROMET vice chair, described the six illuminated books as “six of the finest Ethiopian religious manuscripts in existence”. He added: “These were specially selected for Queen Victoria, and are therefore, from the artistic point of view, virtually without equal anywhere in the world.”

Each volume includes a line identifying it as the property of the Church of Madhane Alam at Magdala. Thay are all written in the ancient Ethiopian language of Geez. All but one are described in the Royal Library catalogue as "profusely illustrated".

The manuscripts are:

  1. The Miracles of our Lord Jesus
    This 160-page vellum manuscript includes full-page multicoloured pictures of the Trinity and the Virgin Mary and Child. It is thought to date from 1725, although parts may be more than 100 years older.

  2. Discourse of John Chrysostom in praise of St John the Baptist etc
    The 106-page volume is the oldest Ethiopic manuscript in the Queen's collection, dating from the early 17th or late 16th century. According to the catalogue: "The paintings in this volume have no explanatory notes. Their quality is somewhat above average." It includes at least two passages that have not been catalogued anywhere else.

  3. Discourses of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael
    The 18th century, 140-page manuscript includes a picture of Gabriel bringing the good news to Mary. It is bound in heavy wooden boards covered with stamped leather and lined with cloth.

  4. Nagara Marayam (The History etc of the Virgin Mary)
    There are pictures on nearly every one of the 159 pages of this 18th century manuscript. A European picture of the Virgin Mary has been stitched onto the opening page.

  5. Miracles of the Virgin Mary
    This large 242-page volume is dated to the time of King Iyo'as - around 1766. It includes a full page picture of the head of Christ, thought to be a copy of a Flemish painting that was also among the Magdala loot.

  6. The Four Gospels
    The gospels, handwritten on vellum over 188 pages, date from the late 17th or early 18th century. They are described as "profusely rubricated".

More information on the manuscripts is available in in Edward Ullendorff's book The Ethiopic Manuscripts in the Royal Library, Windsor Castle.

Scans of the relevant pages can be seen on a website run by Ras Tafari International Consultants.

Current location

The Royal Library in Windsor Castle
 
treasure count:
468 items
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10 items
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(still counting)

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Glasgow's shield
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Reed shirt
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current locations

The British Library
The British Museum
Duke of Wellington's Regimental Museum Halifax
Dundee University Museum
Edinburgh University Library
The John Rylands Uni Library
Lancaster Museum & Priory
National Archives of Scotland
The Schøyen Collection
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