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| by Rebekah Irwin

Special Collections

Special Collections is a library and a research laboratory. We’re not a museum. Our collections aren’t celebrated for their aesthetic value, but as containers for cultural expression and memory.

But, this Ethiopian prayer book, dating to 1700 or 1750 C.E. is beautiful. And yet, we can’t share it without acknowledging the violent clashes unfolding in Ethiopia and the tens of thousands of refugees fleeing to neighboring countries. This centuries-old artifact, Ethiopia’s staggeringly rich cultural history, and the current crisis unfolding, are inseparable.

Ethiopian prayer book

The script is Ge’ez (pronounced gee-eyz) the sacred language of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Syrian missionaries first translated the Bible into Ge’ez and introduced Christianity to Ethiopia in the 4th century C.E.

Typically, Ge’ez prayer books contain incantations meant to protect their owner from otherworldly forces combined with New Testament prayers and hand-painted miniatures. Middlebury’s prayer book is accompanied by a leather satchel designed for protection and portability.

Middlebury Special Collections purchased this prayer book from a book dealer in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 2017.

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