Blog note:  In our Where Books Live Series, we try to find the most inspiring pictures to educate children about the visual and literary cultures that they can access. We are doing our best to attribute these images and where possible to link back to the original pages.  If the owner of any image wishes to have work removed or more accurately credited, we will comply promptly.
The monasteries of the Orthodox Church in Ethiopia and Eritrea hold some of the earliest  illuminated sacred manuscripts in the world.
Most people in these two countries belong to this Christian Tradition, which began in the 4th Century. The illustrations usually depict Biblical themes, and the writing is in the ancient Ge’ez script, the language of the Ethiopian Church.
The first two examples are via the Walters Art Museum.
An illuminated manuscript from Ethiopia

Illuminated manuscript

Credit Frank Miller


If you want to see these beautiful texts for yourself, it requires an effort. Females  might not be allowed into the monastery at all.   Getting to the library in the first place can be a bit of a challenge since the sites are “up mountains, on lakes and miles from anywhere“. To visit high, remote locations of monasteries like Debre Damo and Abuna Garima in Ethiopia, prepare to be hauled up a cliff face by a well-used leather rope!

Debre Damo monastery, Ethiopia

Via: panoramio

Part of the Abuna Gerima monastery

Credit: Capon

The Garima Gospels, housed in the Abuna Garima Monastery in Ethiopia, are thought to be some of the earliest Christian texts, dated between the 3rd and the 6th centuries.  These books may not have left the monastery for 1400 years!
Abba Gerima 1

Credit: Capon

Here are a few more examples of the many extraordinary monasteries in Ethiopia and Eritrea where ancient manuscripts live:
Debre Libanos monastery Ethiopia

Debre Libanos monastery Ethiopia, via: Jeffries

Debre Bizen Monastery, Eritrea

Debre Bizen Monastery, Eritrea, via:

The Church of St. George in Lalibela, Ethiopia, is one of a famous group of churches carved out of the surrounding rock.  In addition to manuscripts, the buildings have wonderful carvings, frescoes and friezes:
St. George's Church, Lalibela

via Flickr/Anthony Pappone

A young boy carries on the sacred art tradition.
Young Ethiopian boy paints in style of sacred Ethiopian texts.


Support the preservation of these priceless world treasures, the illuminated sacred texts of Ethiopia and Eritrea.

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