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British Library manuscripts (349)

Maqdala manuscripts make up almost half of the British Library's collection of Ethiopian parchments. They were originally stored in the British Museum Library which was recently incorporated into the British Library.

A full list is available in printed in Catalogue of the Ethiopic manuscripts in the British Museum acquired since the year 1877.
London: The British Museum, 1877.

The British Library incorporates the collections of the British Museum Library.

The Record of the Expedition to Abyssinia compiled by Major Trevenen J. Holland and Captain Henry Hozier gives over part of a chapter to the manuscripts. It talks about 359 manuscripts, as this was before a number had been transferred to the Royal Library at Windsor Castle. The entry reads:

Manuscripts found at Magdala

On the capture of Magdala, a large number of Ethiopian manuscripts were found, having been carred there by Theodore from the libraries of Gondar and the central parts of Abyssinia during his late expedition, in which he destroyed very many Christian churches.
On finding the Magdala would have to be abandoned to the Gallas. It became necessary to provide for the safety of these volumes, which would otherwise have been destroyed by the Mahommedans. About 900 volumes were taken as far as Chelikot, and there about 600 were delivered to the priests of that church, one of the most important in Abyssinia. 359 books were retained for the purpose of scientific examination, and in the hope that some light might be thrown by them, through the labours of the learned man of Europe, on the ancient history of Ethiopia, and on the records of Christianity.
These manuscripts were carefully examined by M. Munzinger, its title written in each volume, and the books were handed over to the British Museum.
The following is the report of Dr Wright, of the British Museum, on the manuscripts:-

“The collection of manuscripts deposited in the British Museum by the order of Sir S. Northcote consists of 359 volumes, one of which is a paper manuscript, in Coptic and Arabic. The remainder are AEthiopic, with the exception of about half-a-dozen, which are written in the modern Amharic dialect.
Of these manuscripts, four or five are paper, the rest vellum. They are mostly well bound, and in good preservation, and some of them contain pictures, representing the state of art in Abyssinia during the past two or three centuries. The oldest among them Dr Wright finds to be of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but the great bulk of the collection belongs to the seventeenth and eighteenth, and some were written during the present century, even in the reign of the late King Theodore. The following are some of the more important classes:
  1. Manuscripts of the Holy Scriptures, comprising the whole of the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments, as well as the Apocrypha, among the latter may be specified the Book of Enoch, the Rufate (‘Liber Jubilaeorum’ or ‘Parva Genesis’), and the Ascension of Isaiah.
  2. A Lectionary, several missals and other office books, psalters, antiphonaries, Hymn-books, and Prayer-books.
  3. Collections of homilies and discourses for festivals, saints’ days, &c. Here may be mentioned the Gebra Hemamal or services for Passion week, the Nagara and Manjane Dersana Mikail, Dersana Gabriel, and Dersana Rufail, besides the Miracles of the Virgin Mary, and the Miracles of Jesus.
  4. The Parisitic literature is represented by various translations from the Greek and Arabic, such as the Ancoratus of Epiphanies, some works of Cyril of Alexandria, the Commentary of Chrysostom on the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the works Mar Isaac. Other ecclesiastical works of importance are the Dedas Calia Apostolorium, the sinodos or collection of Canons of the Councils, the treatises ascribed to Clement the Haimanota Abau, or ‘Father of Fathers’; the Lena Abau, ‘History or Paradise of the Fathers,’ Tilekseyus or Philoxenus, Aragani Maufasawi, Faus Maufasawi, the huge compilations called Hawiand Talmid, and the Fetha Nagast, or ‘Laws of the Kings.’
  5. The department of history is not so well supplied, but the collection comprises copies of the Jewish history of Joseph ben Gorwon, or Joseppon, the Kebra Nagast or ‘Glory of the Kings’; the Universal History of George Walda Amid, the Chronology of Abu Shaker, and two AEthiopian chronicles of considerable value. The History of Alexander the Great is rather to be regarded as a romance.
  6. Finally may be mentioned the Seukesor, or Synascarium, of which there are several copies; the Gadla Hawareyat, or Acts of the Apostles and Disciples, and numerous lives of Saints.
Looking to the number and intrinsic value of these manuscripts, this seems to be the largest and finest collection of AEthiopic literature in Europe. Certainly it far surpasses in extent that of the French traveler, M. Antoine D’Abbadie, the printed catalogue of which comprises 234 numbers, and if it were added by the Trustees to their present collection of about 115 manuscripts, the British Museum would probably be placed in the first rank in another department of Oriental literature besides the Striac.
Dr Wright has set apart sixteen of the finest manuscripts with pictures, from which a selection may be made for the Royal Library at Windsor Castle.”

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