Historical Dynamics of the Heritage Values of Mount Gǝšän, Ambassäl: Evidence from the Mäṣḥafä Ṭefut (The Book of Ṭeff Grains)

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Awegichew Amare

Abstract

Mount Gǝšän is a cross-shaped mountain in Ambassäl Wäräda, South Wällo Zone, Amhara Regional State. Scholarly literature of the area generally addresses the history of the landscape as a medieval royal prison, present-day religious values and marketability for tourism. A comprehensive study of the shifting values of the site are not informed by a manuscript of primary importance to which scholars had limited access, the Mäṣḥafä Ṭefut (መጽሐፈ ጤፉት፣ lit. ‘The Book of Ṭeff Grains’), which is a 15th-century collection of manuscripts written in Gә’әz, presents the history of the Holy Cross. The present study is an investigation of the dynamics of the values of Mount Gǝšän in light of the recently published version of this manuscript. Two field surveys have been conducted in 2013 and 2018, to corroborate or contest the storylines in the manuscript, hagiographies, royal chronicles and traveller accounts as well as to collect additional information on the changing values of the site, while retaining an uninterrupted religious significance of being a Christian parish. According to the Mäṣḥafä Ṭefut, Mount Gǝšän had served as home to earliest Christian communities in Amhara, a medieval royal prison and currently a well-known Pilgrimage site, bearing different appellations such as Däbrä Nägwädgwad, Däbrä Nägäst and Gǝšän Däbrä Kärbe, since the 6th century . Its religious value, however, remained uninterrupted for centuries, only to be reinforced by the coming of the fragment of the Holy Cross, relics, sacred earth and paintings in the 15th century. As such, the religious reforms within the Ethiopian Orthodox church by Aṣe ZärʾaYaʿǝqob monumentalized Mount Gǝšän to an elaborated status of Dagәmawit Ǝyärusalem (“the Second Jerusalem”) and Wällo a sacred landscape.

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