Evangelist Marcus Michael Gervers
Evangelist Marcus in the Garima Gospels, photographed by Michael Gervers

Exhibition on the Garima Gospels

Matt Pickles

The Gospels of Abba Garima were hidden for centuries in Abba Garima Monastery in the Ethiopian highlands. According to tradition, God miraculously stopped the sun in the sky to allow Saint Abba Garima to complete them in a single day.

Now, for the first time, a photographic exhibition in Oxford is displaying the illuminated pages of the books.

‘These are amongst the earliest and most important of the rare illustrated gospel books to have survived from antiquity,’ says Oxford University’s Judith McKenzie of the Classics Faculty and the Faculty of Oriental Studies.

‘They are the earliest testament of the lost art of the Christian Aksumite kingdom of Ethiopia, which flourished around AD 350–650. Their vivid, finely painted illuminations are at once familiar but also entirely exotic, combining Ethiopian features with those seen elsewhere in Christendom. They include the earliest surviving set of portraits of the evangelists as frontispieces to their respective gospels.’

The exhibition coincides with the publication of a book about the gospels, ‘The Garima Gospels: Early Illuminated Gospel Books from Ethiopia’, which was co-authored by Judith McKenzie, with Francis Watson (Durham University).

The exhibition has been sponsored by the Classics Faculty, the Oxford Centre for Byzantine Research, and the ERC Advanced Project, ‘Monumental Art of the Christian and Early Islamic East’, directed by Judith McKenzie.

It was organised by Judith McKenzie, Miranda Williams, and Foteini Spingou (all from Oxford’s Classics Faculty) with photographs by Michael Gervers (University of Toronto)’ photographs.

It can be viewed from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, and 11am to 3pm on weekends, in the Outreach Room in the Ioannou Centre for Classical and Byzantine Studies on St Giles’, Oxford, OX1 3LU. Admission is free and the exhibition’s last day is Friday 28 July 2017. Groups can be booked for private viewings until Easter - please phone 01865 610236 or email judith.mckenzie@classics.ox.ac.uk.