The Gospels are housed in Ethiopia's Abba Garima Monastery. They have never left the monastery. Although the Gospels were in the catalog of an American museum exhibition that toured from 1993–96, African Zion: the Sacred Art of Ethiopia, they were never lent to the exhibition. Long thought to date from c. 1100, 2010 radiocarbon dating conducted at Oxford University under the auspices of the Ethiopian Heritage Fund suggests they actually date from the period between 330 and 650.
Monastic tradition ascribes the gospels to Saint Abba Garima, said to have arrived in Ethiopia in 494. Abba Garima is one of the Nine Saints instrumental in evangelizing the ancient Ethiopian kingdom of Axum and the monks regard the Gospels less as significant antiquities than as sacred relics of Abba Garima. According to tradition, Abba Garima wrote and illustrated the complete Gospels in a single day; God stopped the sun from setting until the Saint completed his work. New radiocarbon testing supports this traditional dating.
The manuscripts 
There are two manuscripts, Garima I and Garima II.
Garima I has 348 pages, opening with eleven illuminated ones, including canon tables in arcades, followed by the Gospel texts in Ge'ez. Garima II, also in Ge'ez, is a 322-page folio written by a different scribe. It has seventeen illuminated pages, including four "fine" Evangelist portraits. It also has a depiction of the Temple of Solomon with a staircase of unusual form unique in Christian iconography.
The miniatures are in Byzantine style. While the text was written in Ethiopia, some scholars believe that the illuminated pages may have been created in ancient Syria or Egypt. The arcaded canon table settings include pictures of twenty birds; identification of the species of which may eventually settle the question of where the illustrations were made. Some of the illustrations can be seen at  and .
The two front covers are also very old; that of Garima I possibly contemporary with the manuscript, which would probably make it the oldest book cover still attached to its book in the world (the 7th century Stonyhurst Gospel is the oldest European one). It is in gilt-copper with a wooden backing boards and its decoration centres on a large cross. Holes that may have been settings for gems are now empty. The cover for Garima II is silver and from the 10th to 12th centuries.
A 19th-century church for female pilgrims at the edge of the monastery is being renovated to house the precious manuscripts. It has small windows, which will help prevent fading. Steel bars are being inserted and the building will be protected by armed guards.
Expert opinion 
The Garima Gospels first became known outside Ethiopia in 1950, when Beatrice Playne, a British art historian visited the monastery. Since women are not allowed inside the monastery, the monks courteously carried several manuscripts outside for her to view. She wrote that, "there were several illuminated manuscripts whose ornamental headings struck me as Syrian in style." In the 1960s Frenchman Jules Leroy examined the manuscripts and determined that they dated from c. 1100. Until recently, few other outside scholars had seen the manuscripts.
Jacques Mercier a French expert in Ethiopian art, has examined the manuscripts five times. Because the manuscripts were deteriorating to the point where they crumbled every time they were examined, he was permitted to take two small fragments of parchment to the Oxford University Research Laboratory for Archaeology. The parchment is probably goatskin. One sample was dated to 430–650 and the other, from a different manuscript, to 330–540. According to The Art Newspaper, the Garima figures are subject to a 96% probability. Based on stylistic aspects of the work, Mercier now estimates that the gospels date from c. 600, the age of the Syriac Rabbula Gospels now in the collection of the Laurentian Library in Florence, Italy. American scholar Marilyn Heldman also estimates a date of c. 600 based on style.
See also 
- , "Discovery of earliest illustrated manuscript," Martin Bailey, The Art Newspaper, June 2010.
- "Unearthed, the ancient texts that tell story of Christianity; A British bookbinder has restored ancient copies of the gospels dating back to the fourth century, writes Jerome Taylor, July 6, 2010, The Independent.
- Beatrice Playne, St. George for Ethiopia (London: Constable, 1954), p. 103. In a footnote, Playne adds that the ornamental headings "closely resembled the canonical headings in the Gospels of Rabula (Laurentian Library, Florence)."