This lavishly illustrated 17th-century manuscript contains the first eight books of the Old Testament (the Octateuch), the four Gospels, and several canons of church councils. It is written in a small elegant script with decorative borders and devices and has many lively illustrations in bold colours.
The Ethiopian church was one of five Oriental Orthodox churches which rejected the council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D., thus forming a separate tradition from the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. At the time this manuscript was produced, Ethiopia was undergoing a religious and artistic revival. The volume is a faithful copy of a 15th-century manuscript, and was probably commissioned by Emperor Iyasu (ruled 1682-1706). Historical notes in the manuscript suggest it was copied for the church of Debra Berhan Selassie, which remains one of Ethiopia's most well-known churches.
The manuscript is part of the Magdala Collection, which was given to the British Museum library [now the British Library] by the Secretary of State for India in 1868. The collection had been assembled by the Ethiopian Emperor Tewodros [King Theodore] in the fortress of Magdala, which fell into British hands following a battle against Theodore in 1867.
The volume retains its original binding of stamped leather-covered wood, lined with silk cloth.
British Library Or. 481.