The enclosed monastery of May Wäyni lies in Tigray Province. According to local tradition, its founder was the saintly monk abba Qäsala Giyorgis (late14th - early 15th century). He belonged to the ecclesiastical network of the monastery of Däbrä Libanos in Shäwa, being the companion of one of the most important Ethiopian monastic figures, echegé Yohannes Käma.
The collection consists of 91 manuscripts. A preliminary survey has shown that while many were produced during the last two hundred years, the works through which they were transmitted must have been much older. An initial examination of a selection of the manuscripts reveals that the writing styles range from good classical palaeography of the 17th century to modern styles of equally good quality. By way of comparison, there are also cases of poor modern script. Together, they provide an excellent example of how Ethiopian manuscript hands have changed over the last 400 years. The fact that many manuscripts share a remarkably similar writing style, despite differences in age, suggests the presence of a local scriptorium and scribal school.
The manuscripts contain material crucial for the study of Ethiopian and Eastern Christian monasticism, the history of Ethiopia and the Ethiopian Tewahedo Church, Christian and Ethiopian Church literature, the history of the manuscript book, and Ethiopian art history in the context of Byzantine and Christian Oriental artistic traditions. Identifiable groupings are:
1. Texts relating to the history of the monastic community and its founder (mostly hagiographical).
2. Historical documents and notes in ge’ez and Arabic relating to the history of Ethiopia, 15th to 20th century.
3. Documents relating to the history of the Ethiopian Church, 15th to 20th century.
4. Oriental & Ethiopian Christian literature containing unknown & little known texts.
5. Biblical and Liturgical texts.
6. Illuminated manuscripts (miniatures, ornaments, drawings) and artistically bound volumes.
Since the old church of May Wäyni and its storage facility recently collapsed, and the construction of the new church has stopped due to lack of funds, the manuscripts are presently stored in a primitive hut, lying on the floor or on rough benches. Regularly used liturgical books reside in the altar unit in the unfinished sanctuary. Types of damage include accumulation of mould, ravages of mice, male caterpillar holes, water damage, burning, and detached and torn folios.
Regardless of whether they are old or new, the manuscript bindings display an unusually high quality. The preparation of the leather and the quality of the decorative tooling illustrate well developed skills based on a long tradition. These skills prove convincingly that May Wäyni was until quite recently a centre for manuscript production.
The collection at May Wäyni contains numerous specimens of high interest to scholars working on Ethiopian literature and ecclesiastical history. It is threatened, however, by minimal protection in a roughly built structure suffering from near collapse. To prevent further damage to the manuscripts, the monks have distributed those not used during the daily services (including the old biblical texts) among the monks and villagers. This arrangement is particularly unfortunate as it is leading to the increased dispersal of the manuscripts, many of which will find their way to the market place before their content has been recorded.
The collection of manuscripts will be cleaned and placed in improved storage conditions. Digital copies will be deposited with local and international institutions.