Two 18th century Abyssinian manuscripts missing since 1945 safely returned to Frankfurt University Library

From 1831 to 1834 Eduard Rüppell (1794-1884) travelled to Abyssinia (nowadays Ethiopia). In Gondar he met the local erudite Lik Atkum who helped Rüppell to acquire 23 religious manuscripts mostly written on vellum. After his return to Germany he donated them to the Frankfurt public library. During World War II the stocks of the public library were evacuated to the village Mitwitz in Upper Franconia (near Coburg). In the summer of 1943 the evacuation of the library holdings began. They were stored in the then empty lower castle (“Untere Schloß”, now called “Wasserschloß”). Till autumn 1944 450.000 volumes were evacuated, in 1946 most of the books returned safely to Frankfurt (Binder, pp. 207-218). However, six of the Abyssinian manuscripts got lost, perhaps during the hectic removal, or the final stage of the war 1945 or the return transfer. In 1980 the first was given back to the then called “Stadt- und Universitätsbibliothek”. At the beginning of 2011 another two manuscripts counted for lost were restored to Frankfurt University Library with great fortune.

The first codex was written for Negus Hezkejas, who reigned from 1780 to 1786, and contains prayers and e.g. the Book of Psalms in Amharic and Ethiopian (Goldschmidt, No. 3; modern call number Ms.or.133). The second is the translated (church) history of Elmacin (1223-1273) probably from the middle of the 18th century (Goldschmidt, No. 21; modern call number Ms.or.134). They are in a good condition. A distinctive feature is the interloop binding. The binding has been restored and a little bit of dirt and old mould has been removed. They are available for researchers in our manuscripts reading room.

Posters about Rüppell and the restoration will be presented to the public on Saturday, 14th May 2011, in the “Haus am Dom”, Domplatz 3, Frankfurt/Main, from 11:00 on (“7. Nationaler Aktionstag der “Allianz Schriftliches Kulturgut Erhalten”).

Further manuscripts of the collection by Rüppell already have been digitized and can be accessed online, here are two examples:

1.) the prayers of the Virgin Mary written around 1750 by Abrocoros (Goldschmidt, No. 13; modern call number Ms.or.17, the picture on the left is on p. 6)
2.) the paintings of the life of Christ, 17th century (Goldschmidt, No. 14; modern Call Number Ms.or.18, bottom picture on p. 24)

Literature and further information:

  • Goldschmidt, Lazarus: Die abessinischen Handschriften der Stadtbibliothek zu Frankfurt am Main (Rüppell’sche Sammlung), Berlin : Calvary, 1897.
  • Binder, Johanna: Die Stadtbibliothek 1939-1950, in: Klaus-Dieter Lehmann (ed.): Bibliotheca Publica Francofurtensis – 500 Jahre Stadt- und Universitätsbibliothek Frankfurt am Main, Frankfurt am Main : Stadt- u. Universitätsbibliothek 1985, pp. 205-226.

About ilissafrica
This is the blog of the internet library sub-saharan Africa (ilissAfrica).

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