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Ethiopian Prayer Book


The book is composed of 42 complete leaves and one half leaf (86 unnumbered pages). The leaves are made of yellowish tan parchment. Each leaf has been neatly scored (ruled with incised lines using an awl). Each leaf measures 12.5 cm. high and 8.1 cm. wide.


The text is neatly written in black and red ink. The opening lines of various text sections and highlighted words (such as the names of God, Saints, and members of the Holy Family) are written in red ink. Notes or comments are written at the beginning and end of the manuscript. Other notations, are written in the margins of some pages. The notes and comments are written in black, pinkish-purple, and/or dark purple ink in a cruder hand than the main text.

The language used in the manuscript is Classical Ethiopic or Ge'ez. Ge'ez is the written literary language used by the Ethiopian church.


The manuscript is largely undecorated.  The top of the opening text page is decorated with a linear and triangular geometric design in red and black ink. The page opposite this first text page contains a number of crude drawings and decorations along with notes. There is a cross and an undetermined symbol drawn in a pinkish-purple ink at the top of this page. The bottom of this page has a scroll drawn in black ink. Above the scroll, is a line of crosses composed from black dots.


The manuscript is bound in the Coptic style with two wooden board covers and exposed stitching. The wooden covers are a dark reddish-brown color on the outside and a lighter grey-brown color on the inside. Though the wood has been sanded smooth, saw and tooling marks are still visible on the surfaces of book's covers. The edges of the wooden covers have been beveled and smoothed. Each board measures 12.8 cm. high, 8.1 cm. wide and 0.5 cm. thick.

Each cover has two sets of small drilled holes for the strings of the binding. The outer face of the front cover contains two small holes in the center of the board. One hole goes completly through the board and is visible on the inside face of the cover.

The stitching has been done with two different types of string. One type, is a stiff parchment colored string made up of very thin strands of some type of animal (?) material. The other type, is a cotton based string. Green, orange, and light tan colored cotton strings have been used. Each quire of pages is bound using a different type/color of string, sometimes two. This mixture of string types and colors are probably the result of rebinding or repair efforts done over time. New string was added to replace or reinforce a worn or broken string or to bind in new quire of pages.


The book has a protective carrying case. The case is constructed from thick grayish-tan leather sections which have been sewn together. It is roughly oval shaped and is composed of two joined halves. The hair side of the leather faces the inside of the case and the hair is still present. The hair provides a protective cushion for the book while it is in the case and makes sliding the book in and out of the case easier. The case has an attached leather strap. The leather is sewn together using two types of string. One type, is a stiff parchment colored string made up of very thin strands of some type of animal (?) material. The other type, is a cotton based string. The cotton string is white or off-white in color. Similar string types were used for the binding of the manuscript. The case shows much use and ware. It also shows signs of repair.


The manuscript probably dates to the late 19th or early 20th century.

Use and Damage

The manuscript shows signs of much use. It would have been carried around by its original owner in a small leather case with a strap. The case is worn from being carried about and some of the stitching holding the leather pieces together is comming loose. The case also shows signs of repair work (re-stitching). The book's wooden covers are smooth and show signs of rubbing, from being taken in-and-out of the carrying case. The corners of some pages show signs of rubbing and are slightly rounded.

Most of the pages are water stained along their top outer edges. The water has caused some of the ink to run. The last full page of the manuscript is heavily water damaged. The text on this page is almost completely washed off.

The lower outer edges of many pages are darkened from use. They are stained from hand oils, absorbed by the parchment, as the pages were turned. The slight imperfections in the surface of the parchment absorb skin oils differently and result in a spotted effect or make the pages look like they are coated with dirt.

The parchment of two leaves, each contain, a small circular hole. These were there before the parchment was written upon. A few leaves have a row of small pin holes along their top outer edges. These holes were probably the result of the preparation process of the parchment. They were made to allow strings to attach the animal skin to a frame for stretching and scraping. When the parchment was finished and cut to shape, the section of the parchment with the attachment holes was simply not trimmed off.

The last leaf of the manuscript has been cut in half vertically. This leaf is made of a translucent parchment and may represent the remnants of an earlier parchment cover or binding or simply an excised page.

Imaging the Manuscript

The digital images of this manuscript were created using a Visioneer 4400 USB flatbed scanner. The manuscript was scanned at 400 DPI. The images were stored as MAX files which were then converted to JPEG which were resized, so each image showed the manuscript in its actual size. Careful positioning, of the book during scanning, eliminated the need for any cropping of the images. PaperPort and MGI PhotoSuite III image manipulation software was used in the editing and resizing of the images. No color enhancement of the images was needed, all were very close to the originals.

To avoid excess stress on the book and its binding during scanning, a stiff, thin, rectangle of cardboard, was used to place and remove the book from the scanner surface. The cardboard could easily be slid between the glass and the book and prevented the need to lift or hold the book by its covers. It was then cradled as it was flipped over and the page turned and the scanning process repeated. Fortunately, the book opened almost fully flat, so there was no need to add any additional pressure on the book to make the pages stay open on the scanner surface.

Latex gloves were worn while handling the manuscript during scanning. This was done to prevent fingerprints on the scanner glass and protect the manuscript from any further staining from skin oils while it was handled. One problem while scanning was dust particles. Between each scan, the glass surface of the scanner needed to be whipped with a towel. Though, the occasional dust particle was unavoidable.

Future Plans and Additions

The initial goal of this project was to present the manuscript in its entirety. This has been accomplished. Future enhancements to this site will include images of the book's carrying case and enlarged images of each page. Long term future goals include, the addition of further commentary, essays on related topics, and ideally a translation of the text.

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This page was last updated on August 30, 2002.

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Copyright 2002 by Theodore Bernhardt.  All Rights Reserved