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Princeton Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Egyptian Miracles of Mary (PEMM) project

William F. Macomber Handlist of Stories

The basis of the PEMM database is an extraordinary unpublished manuscript created in the 1980s. PEMM would have been impossible without this work.

This unpublished work was done by William F. Macomber, the cataloger for the Ethiopian Manuscript Microfilm Library  (EMML), a project of the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library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, generously shared Macomber’s document with this project and others. 

By hand, without a computer, Macomber compiled information from Ethiopian Miracle of Mary manuscripts. He compiled this information using all or parts of 175 EMML manuscripts as well as some 65 manuscripts from published catalogs to identify 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.

The 175 EMML manuscripts he studied were from among those numbered EMML 1 to EMML 3500, plus a few older manuscripts in the higher project numbers.


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 Muslimsbrigands 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 (completed in December 1400) may be the original template for the Täˀammərä Maryam, which Macomber did not include in the catalog (being outside of his chosen manuscript range or 1 to 3,500). Also, a very short manuscript, Berlin Staatsbibliothek (Berlin State Library) MS No. 42, appears to be even earlier. 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, based on manuscripts from EMML only, he has numbered them from the oldest to the most recent (that is, miracle no. 309 appears in an EMML manuscript older than the EMML 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.


Macomber believed that stories with his IDS 135 to 206 appeared in the earliest Täˀammərä Maryam. He thought a few miracles were added to the collection soon after, 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.

Akkonu Bəˀəsi Collection

Akkonu bəˀəsi is the name of a characteristic collection of around 30 to 33 miracles that recur most frequently together. They generally appear at the beginning of the manuscripts, are the ones that most often are illustrated. This collection became standard in the 1600s. He believed that the hymns, which appear in many manuscripts after these stories, were added later.

pricenton ethiopian eritrean & egyptian miracles of marry project

The Princeton Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Egyptian Miracles of Mary (PEMM) project is a comprehensive resource for the 1,000+ miracle stories written about and the 2,500+ images painted of the Virgin Mary in these African countries, and preserved in Geʿez between 1300 and the present.

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