ONE @ 50: Miracles of Mary

In honor of ONE magazine’s 50th-anniversary year, the CNEWA blog series, ONE @ 50: From the Vault, aims to revive and explore the wealth of articles published in ONE magazine throughout its history. In this month of Mary, learn about the legendary narrative of the miracles of the Blessed Virgin in the Ethiopian Orthodox tradition in this article, originally published in January-February 1998.

Read an excerpt from “Miracles of Mary” below, then read the full story.

In their liturgical practices, Ethiopian Orthodox Christians preserve as many as 14 of the ancient anaphoras (Eucharistic liturgies) that date from the early church. They also use other spiritual texts, commonly read before, during or after the Divine Liturgy. One of the most popular of these is the “Ta’amere Maryam,” or the “Miracles of Mary,” a legendary narrative about the miracles of the Virgin Mary. That these miracles inspired the iconographic scheme in many churches attests to their importance in Ethiopian Christianity. Often, a whole wall of the sanctuary is dedicated to them.

The original home of the “Miracles of Mary” was Jerusalem and its immediate neighborhood. Tales of these miracles circulated in Syria and Egypt long before the end of the fourth century. Soon afterward, they reached Europe; however it appears that they were condemned, together with other apocryphal literature, at a local council in Rome in 494 A.D.

This turn of events did not by any means prevent the widespread dissemination of the miracle stories. From the fifth to the 11th centuries the “Miracles of Mary” enjoyed extensive popularity in Europe. By the end of the 11th century it was fashionable to form collections of these stories, which monks accepted and copied in monasteries as authentic works. Whenever a church was built in honor of the Virgin Mary, the pious provided the clergy with a manuscript of her miracles. Through the process of collecting and editing, the stories assumed new forms and gained many additions.

Eventually, manuscript copies of the “Miracles of Mary” arrived in the East and were translated into Arabic. In the early 15th century they were joyfully received in Ethiopia and soon translations in Ge’ez (classical Ethiopian) appeared.

The use of the “Ta’amere Maryam” seems to have coincided with the religious reforms of one of the greatest Ethiopian emperors, Zara-Jacob (1434-68), whose reign also saw the culmination of the golden age of Ge’ez literature.

Read more.

Joachim Persoon is a postgraduate researcher at the University of London’s Department of the Study of Religions, School of Oriental and African Studies.

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