Gonder, Ethiopia
Miracles of Mary (Te'amire Maryam)
Late 17th century, reign of Yohannes (1667–82) or Iyyasu I (1682–1706)

Parchment, ink, tempera, wood, leather, cotton, and string
36.8 x 31.8 x 9.5 cm (14 1/2 x 12 1/2 x 3 3/4 in.)
Ada Turnbull Hertle and Marian and Samuel Klasstorner endowments, 2002.4

The Story of the Clubfooted Man is one of 72 hand-painted illustrations from a lavish 158-page bound manuscript devoted to the miracles of Mary. It was created in the late 17th century in Gonder, the newly established capital of Christian Ethiopia's Solomonic Kings. The manuscript is part of a closely related group of manuscripts that was created during a period of great artistic innovation in Christian Ethiopia, when manuscript illuminators were exploring new approaches to their art, including the introduction of narrative illustrations. It is likely that this book was commissioned by a wealthy individual as a high-status guide for family devotion.

Christianity has existed in Ethiopia since the 4th century. In the distinctive practices of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Mary, Christ’s mother, is highly revered as an intercessor between her son and a sinful or suffering humanity. This image demonstrates her benevolence and compassion for a disabled man. At left, the man shows his clubfoot to an archbishop. Next, he prays to Mary, who holds a diminutive Christ in her arms, and is cured. The man then displays his healed foot. The composition is distinguished by whimsical architecture and decorative details including the thrones that bear Mary and the archbishop. Bold outlines define the figures and schematic shading enlivens their faces in a manner typical of manuscript and mural painting produced in Gonder during this period.

The stories of Mary’s miracles have their roots in medieval Europe, when illness and infirmity were sometimes perceived as God’s punishment for sinfulness. The curing of such conditions was perceived as a form of redemption. Mary’s significance within Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity intensified during the mid-15th-century reign of Emperor Ze’ra Ya’equob (who reigned from 1434 to1468), who established more than 30 feast days honoring her and commissioned many texts to guide worshipers in their celebrations. This lavish manuscript bears the effects of years of careful use. Cotton veils tied directly to the tops of the pages cover and protect the 72 paintings, and wooden boards covered in finely tooled morocco leather protect the volume.

The Annunciation, from the Miracles of Mary (Te’amire Maryam)
Page 35 recto of a bound manuscript: parchment, ink, tempera, wood, leather, cotton, and string

The Covenant of Mercy, from the Miracles of Mary (Te’amire Maryam)
Page 51 recto of a bound manuscript: parchment, ink, tempera, wood, leather, cotton, and string

The Covenant of Mercy celebrates Christ’s apocryphal promise to accept Mary’s intercessions on behalf of humanity. Here, Jesus gives his covenant to Mary amid surrounding angels. In Ethiopia, the Feast of the Covenant of Mercy, Kidane Mehret, is celebrated annually on February 23.

The Story of Saint Ildefonsus of Toledo, Who Compiled the Book of Miracles (Miracle I), from the Miracles of Mary (Te’amire Maryam)
Pages 59 verso, 60 recto of a bound manuscript: parchment, ink, tempera, wood, leather, cotton, and string

St. Ildephonsus of Toledo (died 667) is reputed to be the original author of the Miracles of Mary, which he wrote to demonstrate his great love for her. To honor him for his devotion, Mary appeared before him, blessed him, and presented him with a divine robe and throne. At bottom, the Archangel Gabriel spears a bishop who has tried to sit on Ildephonsus's throne after his death. The story of Saint Ildephonsus is the first miracle included in this manuscript.

The Story of the Painter in France, Who Fell While Decorating a Church and Was Saved by the Virgin (Miracle 8), from the Miracles of Mary (Te’amire Maryam)
Pages 76 recto, 77 verso of a bound manuscript: parchment, ink, tempera, wood, leather, cotton, and string

The Story of the Brother Scribes, One of Whom Sinned while Copying the Miracles of Mary, and Whose Soul Was Saved by the Virgin (Miracle 18), from the Miracles of Mary (Te’amire Maryam)
Pages 100 recto, 101 verso of a bound manuscript: parchment, ink, tempera, wood, leather, cotton, and string

This image shows some of the tools of an Ethiopian scribe, including reed pens and ink horns. The scribe places the parchment page on his lap to write.

The Story of the Leper Bishop Mercurius, Who Was Cured by the Virgin (Miracle 23), from the Miracles of Mary (Te’amire Maryam)
Pages 111 verso, 112 recto of a bound manuscript: parchment, ink, tempera, wood, leather, cotton, and string

Bishop Mercurius, a victim of leprosy, was ordered to leave the priesthood because of his illness. Here, Mercurius shows his disease-ridden body to the archbishop. He then prays to Mary and is healed. On the right, Mercurius reveals to an attendant and to the archbishop that he has been cured. Finally, he is reinstated to the priesthood and celebrates Mass.

The Story of Barok of Finqe, a Dissolute Man Whose Soul Was Received by the Virgin (Miracle 26), from the Miracles of Mary (Te’amire Maryam)
Pages 120 verso, 121 recto of a bound manuscript: parchment, ink, tempera, wood, leather, cotton, and string

Though corrupt, Barok of Finqe loved the Virgin and regularly honored her by hosting a banquet for the poor and needy on the festival of her death. On the left, Barok serves a distinctly Ethiopian feast to his guests, with a communal plate and ceramic jugs. On the right, Mary presides over Barok’s ordination as a monk, his death by stoning at the hands of his enemies, and his burial in a state of grace.

Christ Crowned with Thorns, from the Miracles of Mary (Te’amire Maryam)
Page 144 recto of a bound manuscript: parchment, ink, tempera, wood, leather, cotton, and string

Saint Basiledes; Christ in Judgment, from the Miracles of Mary (Te’amire Maryam)
Page 151 verso, 152 recto of a bound manuscript: parchment, ink, tempera, wood, leather, cotton, and string

On the left, Saint Basiledes, one of the many soldier saints who have been popular in Ethiopia for centuries, rides a white stallion adorned with fine trappings. On the right, a serene and monumental Christ, clothed in richly detailed robes, sits in judgment. With his right hand, Christ invites the blessed to rise up to the angels in heaven, while with his left he gestures for the damned to be dragged by demons into the fires of hell.