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Page last updated at 15:09 GMT, Thursday, 8 July 2010 16:09 UK
Tewkesbury bookbinder preserves ancient Garima Gospels

Garima gospels
The gospels are kept at a remote monastery in northern Ethiopia

A Gloucestershire bookbinder has returned from a trip to Ethiopia where he has helped save an ancient manuscript.

Lester Capon, from Tewkesbury, was asked to travel abroad to help preserve two volumes of the Garima Gospels.

Legend has it that the gospels were created in a day after God intervened to delay the sunset.

The fragile volumes are kept at the remote monastery of Abuna Garima in northern Ethiopia.

Lester, a bookbinder and manuscript conservator, described how his breath was taken away when he saw the "beautifully bright colours" of the illuminated pages.

"I'd seen photos when I was preparing for this work," said Lester, "but seeing this book in real life was astonishing.

"It was big - you could fell an ox with it - it was beautiful, the colours were vibrant.

"But the condition was poor. It had the look of a burst mattress."

Lester Capon in Ethiopia
Lester was invited to help by the Ethiopian Heritage Fund

His brief was to do minimal repair, re-assemble the pages in the correct order and re-sew some of the images.

Lester set up his bindery in the monastery courtyard, which attracted the attention of monkeys.

"I kept an eye on them as I was fearful that one may jump down from the roof, grab a folio, scrunch it up and run off down the hill."

The Ethiopian Heritage Fund will now set out evidence suggesting the gospels may form one of the earliest surviving illustrated Christian manuscripts.

Hear the full interview with Lester Capon on John Hellings' Sunday Breakfast show on BBC Radio Gloucestershire, from 6am on Sunday, 11 July, 2010.

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