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September, 2019
Volume 45, Number 3
24 January 2013
Greg Kandra

One of the many ancient manuscripts found in Debra Zion. (photo: Sean Sprague)

On 24 January, the Latin church marks the feast of St. Francis de Sales, the patron of writers and journalists. In 2004, writer and journalist Sean Sprague paid a visit to Ethiopia and discovered some treasures of the written word:

Ringed by volcanic hills, Lake Ziway is known for its birds. On a typical day African pygmy geese, yellow-billed storks, white pelicans and other birds swoop over the 187-square-mile lake in central Ethiopia. Ornithology aside, there is another reason to visit Lake Ziway: Its largest island, Tullu Gudo, shelters the oldest active religious community south of Ethiopia’s Christian heartland, Debra Zion. Tradition holds that Tullu Gudo once housed the Ark of the Covenant, said to contain the Ten Commandments. …

The original church of Debra Zion and its monastery fell into ruin by the early 19th century, but its treasures — various ancient Christian manuscripts and icons — were preserved. … At the back of the Debra Zion church is a padlocked door behind which are the island’s historic treasures.

Looking over the various manuscripts, Abune Gregorius was particularly interested in one book, a history of the saints, written in Ge’ez. This ancient language predates the Aksumite empire, but remains the liturgical language of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Read more about these treasures and Ethiopia’s Island Sanctuary in the January 2005 issue of ONE.

Tags: Ethiopia Orthodox Ethiopian Orthodox Church Ethiopian Christianity