Christmas Countdown: 1 More Sleep!


Gondarine sensul, folio 2 recto (the front-side of the 2nd leaf), late 17th century

You may not associate Ethiopia with incredible manuscripts – I never used to – but Ethiopia has churned out some of the most beautiful manuscripts I’ve ever seen. These manuscripts are generally much younger than the European ones. The image above, for example, is from the late 17th century, by which time Europe had burned its scriptoria in favour of printing houses. That said, some scholars believe they discovered the world’s earliest illustrated Christian manuscript in an Ethiopian monastery. Huh.

Below is the Walters Art Museum’s write-up on this particular book:

This Ethopian sensul, or “chain” manuscript, was made in the seventeenth century in the Gondarine region. It was created out of a single folded strip of parchment attached to heavy hide “boards” at each end, creating a small book when folded. Comprised solely of inscribed images, this pocket-sized manuscript would have served a devotional function for its owner, who while unidentified, inscribed the first image with a note reminding people under the threat of excommunication not to steal or erase the manuscript. Narrative illuminations, which tell the story of the Virgin Mary, allow for private meditation. The book can also function as something of an icon, for when it is opened to the middle and stood on end, the facing figures of St. George and the Virgin and Child form a small diptych, resembling other icons of this era.

If you have a couple minutes, type “Ethiopian manuscripts” into Google Images. You’ll be amazed at the beauty of the pictures. As well as a little bit frightened by the bug-eyes.

And that’s it – my Christmas Countdown is complete! Thanks for sticking around.

Merry Christmas, readers. You’ll see me again at the beginning of February.

… I’m going to need some time to recover from all the Christmas celebrations.

Christmas Countdown: 2 More Sleeps!


The Bamberg Apocalypse, unknown folio, c. 1000-1020

The Bamberg Apocalypse was commissioned by Holy Roman Emperor Otto III, and created by the fine monks at Reichenau. In 2003, the manuscript was added to the UNESCO Memory of the World International Register. In short, this book is a pretty deal.

This particular image is really weird. If you peek at the Nativity scene, you’ll notice immediately what’s weird about it – there’s no Baby Jesus. JNoPie at The Art of Modern Life suggests that it’s actually Mary in the manger, with Joseph and the innkeeper beside her. My first thought, though, was that it was an older Jesus in the manger, with Joseph and Mary beside him. I feel like I’m probably wrong, and JNoPie seems to know what she’s talking about. Nevertheless, I’m sticking with my older-Jesus-in-the-manger theory until I see a better-quality version of this image.

I think the reason I’m hesitant to say it’s Mary in the manger is because I’ve always imagined Mary to have blonde or brown hair. I don’t know why. I blame Sunday School.