Princeton Ethiopian Miracles of Mary Project (የፕሪንስተን የኢትዮጵያ ተዓምራተ ማርያም ፕሮጀክት)

The Princeton Ethiopian Miracles of Mary digital humanities project (PEMM) is a comprehensive resource for the Gəˁəz miracle stories written about the Virgin Mary in Ethiopia between 1400 and the present. PEMM was launched in March 2018. 

Most of these miracle stories appear in the Ethiopian compilation text called Täˀammərä Maryam (Miracles of Mary). Drawing on manuscripts from the exceptional collection of Täˀammərä Maryam in Princeton’s Rare Books and Special Collections, PEMM will collect information about these miracle tales to enable better scholarship on their contents across regions, languages, and time. The project is aimed at creating a resource for all scholars and to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church community, providing Ethiopians with better access to their patrimony, and raising general awareness about the beauty, breadth, and variety of these vital works of early African literature.

To learn more about this DH project, you may also consult: Belcher, Wendy Laura, Rebecca Sutton Koeser, Rebecca Munson, Gissoo Doroudian, and Meredith Martin. CDH Project Charter — Princeton Ethiopian Miracles of Mary 2019-20. Center for Digital Humanities at Princeton. 2019. 

PEMM Incipit Tool

The PEMM Incipit Tool was developed by Rebecca Koeser with Nick Budak of the Princeton Center for Digital Humanities to allow users to catalog miracle stories properly across manuscripts. The user identifies an incipit from a story in a Täˀammərä Maryam manuscript. They type that line, using the Gəˁəz script (fidəl), into the empty field at the top of the PEMM Incipit Tool page. They then find out which ID number the story is, and then use that number to find out which story it is at the list of stories. Detailed project information about the stories is also available at Github. 

An incipit is the unique opening line of a story, a string of words, ten to twenty in a row. Most Täˀammərä Maryam manuscript have the same exact praises for Mary in the first one to three sentences of every story, so those are not an incipit. That is, they are not the string of unique words that identify the miracle. An incipit in Täˀammərä Maryam often starts with the equivalant of “There was a certain man…”

Macomber Source

The basis of the PEMM database is an extraordinary unpublished manuscript written in the 1980s by William F. Macomber, the cataloger for the Ethiopian Manuscript Microfilm Library  (EMML), a project of the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library (HMML) at St. John’s Abbey in Minnesota. Father Colomba Stewart, executive director of  HMML, kindly shared Macomber’s document with this project and others. 

By hand, Macomber compiled information using 175 EMML manuscripts (largely from among those numbered 1 to 3,500 plus a few more older manuscripts in the higher project numbers) as well as some 65 manuscripts from published catalogs to identify some 644 unique Ethiopian miracle stories. He also noted where they appeared in some print editions, particularly those by Sir Wallis Budge and Täsfa Gäbrä Śəllase. 


Macomber encountered some challenges in creating this list.

Recensions and variation. Many stories had different recensions or versions. For instance, often one version had a proper name for the protagonist and the other did not. Also, the stories could be radically different lengths, with one half the length of the other, in a summary version. Where they were not too different in plot, Macomber counted them as the same story. If they were very different, he listed them as two different stories. Also, some longer Marian miracle stories appeared together as one story in some manuscripts but were divided up into separate miracle stories in others.

Genre. Macomber chose to treat the ancient apocryphal stories about Mary’s life—her annunciation, pregnancy, giving birth, fleeing to Egypt, dormition, and assumption—as Marian miracles. He rightly included these texts written in the Levant in the second to fifth centuries because they appear in many Täˀammərä Maryam; but, strictly, Marian miracle stories are about what Mary did after passing away, from heaven, for the faithful who called upon her name.

Vastness. Some miracle stories were so common that Macomber did not list all the manuscripts in which they appeared. For such common stories, he named their appearance only in manuscripts written before 1700 and not after, ensuring that he named at least seven manuscripts for each of the most common stories.

Dating. Ethiopian manuscripts are rarely dated, and so the dates Macomber assigned to them are approximate.

Incipits. As Macomber wrote, “the incipits of the Miracles of Mary are hopelessly variable and, at the same time, not sufficiently characteristic for the purposes of identification.” For this reason, the incipits he provided for stories are unusually long. That is, as these incipits easily resembled other incipits (many begin wä-hallo aḥädu bəˀəsi; “and there was a certain man “), he wanted to give a long enough incipit to ensure the story could be properly identified. In a few cases, where the variation between the recensions was too great, he gives two incipits.  

Keywords. Macomber included keywords, but the list is not very standardized nor up-to-date (e.g., Moslems instead of Muslims; brigands instead of thieves).


Part of the purpose of PEMM is to test Macomber’s own analysis.


He identified four main collections, stories he thought regularly appeared together in manuscripts. He numbered together consecutively those that most often appeared together.  

Most common collection. He states of the first group, of several hundred stories, that “stories 1 to 292 represent a relatively fixed collection that existed in Ethiopia at least as far back as the reign of Lebna Dengel (1508-1540).” He considered EMML 2058, 6938, and 7543, as the most representative manuscripts in this regard. However, it now seems that EMML 9002 may be the original Täˀammərä Maryam, which Macomber did not include in the catalog (being outside of his chosen manuscript range or 1 to 3,500). Additional analysis of it is required to identity whether his theory then holds up.

Apocryphal collection. He states of the second group, of about a dozen stories, that “stories 293 to 308 represent the only other consistent collection and are exclusively apocryphal stories, probably from the Nagara Maryam.” He says the oldest known version of this second group is EMML 3051, but other collections of it are EMML 2392, 2999 3572, and 3031. However, further analysis suggests that perhaps as many as 100 of the stories he included were from apocryphal or biblical sources, including the following cycles (stories on a theme). Fifty-two stories are about Mary’s nativity, childhood, annunciation, pregnancy, childbirth, assumption, and dormition. Twenty-six stories are about the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt, although some of these are undoubtedly not early apocryphal stories, especially the ones about their continued journey into Ethiopia. Twenty-three stories are about the Ark of the Covenant, many of which come from the biblical book of Samuel. The stories may not appear together in the Täˀammərä Maryam, but their existence has implications for any calculus of how many of the total number of stories are unique to Ethiopia.   

Unconnected collection. He states of the third group, of several hundred stories, that stories 309 to 639 rarely appear together in the same manuscripts. So, he has numbered them from the oldest to the most recent (that is, miracle no. 309 appears in a manuscript older than the manuscript in which miracle no. 316 appears). Of this third group, stories 633-639 appear only in Vatican manuscripts.

Outliers. He states of the fourth group, of just a few, that stories 640 to 642 may not count as Marian miracle stories at all, being more in the nature of hymns or homilies, or about Christ.


Akkonu bəˀəsi set. Macomber believed that stories 135-206 appeared in the earliest Täˀammərä Maryam. He called this set of around 70 miracle stories the Akkonu bəˀəsi miracles. They are “the stories that recur most frequently in the manuscripts as a characteristic collection, and they are the ones that most often illustrated by miniatures.”

He thought a few miracles were added to the collection soon after the Akkonu bəˀəsi miracles came about, being added at the beginning or end of manuscripts. These included stories 13 (the composition of the Miracles of Mary by Bishop Hildephonsus of Toledo), 134 (the nominal Christian from Sidon who encountered a dragon), and 207 (The monk who saved the church of Saint Mary in Atrib). He thought one early miracle, miracle 143 (about a Jew from Jerusalem saved after three days in a dragon), was dropped early on, in the 1400s. 

He believed that the hymns, which appear in many manuscripts after stories, were added later.

Textual History of Qemer Story

Funded by the PEMM project, Prof. Stephen Delamarter has spearheaded a close analysis of one particular Marian miracle story, perhaps the most famous in Ethiopia, the story of the Cannibal of Qemer. This analysis is based on his careful selection of 90 manuscripts with clear provenance and dating information. He then had three research assistants type up each story exactly as it appears in each manuscript (to ensure accuracy) and then used software to analyze difference among the stories by date and place. Such research has suggested strong regional differences and changes over time, adding up to to four recensions. A book on this, Textual History of the Ethiopic Tale of the Cannibal of Qemer, is underway, coauthored by Delamarter, Belcher, and Dr. Jeremy Brown of Catholic University.

Project Team

Principal Investigator. Wendy Laura Belcher, Professor, Princeton University departments of Comparative Literature and African American Studies

Lead Developer. Rebecca Sutton Koeser

Project Manager. Evgeniia Lambrinaki

Princeton Center for Digital Humanities: Natalia Ermolaev, CDH Assistant Director; Rebecca Munson, CDH Project Coordinator; Nick Budak and Benjamin Hicks, CDH Developers; Gissoo Doroudian, User Experience Designer and CDH Project Manager; Jim Casey, Perkins Postdoctoral Fellow

Textual History of the Ethiopic Old Testament Project: Prof. Steve Delamarter, George Fox Seminary, principal investigator of THEOT; Dr. Jeremy Brown, Catholic University; Jonah Sandford, and Ashlee Benson

Project Collaborators

Rev. Melaku Terefe, priest, cataloger, and scholar,  serving at Virgin Mary Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Los Angeles, and on the Ethiopic Manuscript Imaging Project

Dr. Solomon Gebreyes, Research Fellow at the Hiob Ludolf Centre for Ethiopian Studies at the University of Hamburg, Germany

Eyob Derillo, curator of Ethiopian collections at the British Library

Meron Gebreananaye, PhD student in religious, theology, and literary studies at the University of Durham, UK 

Sofanit T. Abebe, PhD student in religion and New Testament studies at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland

Dr. Habte Michael Kidane, independent researcher on Gəˁəz literature and liturgy

Dr. Hagos Abrha, professor at Mekelle University, scholar of Ge`ez philology and manuscripts

Board Members

Elias Wondimu, CEO and President of TSEHAI Corp., a global knowledge company 

Archpriest Mussie Berhe, priest and scholar, serving at St. Michael Ethiopian Orthodox Church of Los Angeles 

Archpriest Woldesemait Teklehaymanot, monk and scholar, serving at St. Michael Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Los Angeles 

Rev. Melaku Terefe, Virgin Mary Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Los Angeles

Dr. Solomon Gebreyes, Research Fellow at the Hiob Ludolf Centre for Ethiopian Studies at the University of Hamburg, Germany

Eyob Derillo, curator of Ethiopian collections at the British Library

Meron Gebreananaye, PhD student in religious, theology, and literary studies at the University of Durham, UK 

Project Advisers

Prof. Getatchew Haile, Emeritus Professor at Saint John’s College, foremost scholar of Gəˁəz literature

Prof. Samantha Kelly, Rutgers University, scholar of medieval Europe and Ethiopia

Prof. Alessandro Bausi, Professor for Ethiopian Studies at the Asien-Afrika-Institut; director of the Hiob Ludolf Centre at Universität Hamburg; and head of Beta maṣāḥǝft: Die Schriftkultur des christlichen Äthiopien und Eritreas: Eine multimediale Forschungsumgebung (2016-2040).

Prof. Ewa Balicka-Witakowska, Associate Professor at Uppsala University, Department of Linguistics and Philology, Institute of Byzantine Studies, an art historian in Oriental Christian art, particularly Ethiopian and Syrian

Prof. Aaron Butts, associate professor at Catholic University, scholar of the languages, literatures, and history of Christianity in the Near East, especially Arabic, Ethiopic, and Syriac

Dr. Alexandra Antohin, Senior Research and Program Manager of the Avoice Virtual Library Project at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and scholar of Ethiopian Christianity

Dr. Kristin Windmuller-Luna, Sills Family Consulting Curator, African Arts, Brooklyn Museum; Mellon Research Specialist, African Arts, Princeton University Art Museum; and scholar of Ethiopian art and architecture

Dr. Pamela A. Patton, Director, Index of Medieval Art, and scholar of Marian miracles


PEMM is generously funded by various Princeton organizations, including the Princeton Institute of International and Regional Studies, the  Center for Digital Humanities, the Council of the Humanities, the Department of African American Studies, the Department of Comparative Literature, and Princeton Library Rare Books and Special Collections. It also has received funding from the University Center for Human Values, the Center for the Study of Religion, the Program in African Studies, the Program in Medieval Studies, the Index on Christian Art, and the Princeton University Art Museum.