Ethiopia is legendary for its medieval, rock-hewn churches, the cruciform and colorful frescoes of which have attracted tourists from across the world. The ancient kingdom of Abyssinia, which we now know as modern-day Ethiopia and Eritrea, was probably the site of the first Christian nation, and the churches still serve as religious sanctuaries and draw pilgrims celebrating the Ethiopian Christian calendar.
Ethiopia: The Living Churches of an Ancient Kingdom celebrates the unique artistic and architectural achievement of 66 of these churches with more than 800 color photographs. The book delves into their history, documenting not just their exteriors, but their interior artwork, the panoply of religious festivals they host, and the lives of the monks and priests who call them home.
Published in November by Ludwig Publishing and the American University in Cairo Press, the book is a collaboration between academics, journalists, and photographers living both in and out of the continent. The captivating pictures are a testimony to the architectural mastery and uniqueness of Ethiopia’s medieval and post-medieval civilizations.
A priest of the church of Abuna Yemata, located on the needle pinnacle of Guh in Gheralta Mountains, reads in the doorway of the church’s entrance, in front of a two-hundred-meter sheer drop. Abuna Yemata was one of the “Nine Saints” who founded a monastic community in Aksum in northern Ethiopia in the sixth century. (The American University in Cairo Press)
A priest looks through the only window of the church of the saint Abuna Yemata. (The American University in Cairo Press)
Inside the Debre Berhan Selassie church, a mural of the Trinity surrounds the Tetramorph, below a wonderful rendition of the Crucifixion. Also known as the Mountain of the Light of the Trinity, the church is located in Gondar in northern Ethiopia and is filled with art from ceiling to floor. Originally circular, it opened its doors to the faithful in 1694 but was later destroyed by lightning. The present church was built and painted during the first two decades of the nineteenth century and is rectangular with an exterior ambulatory. The interior is one large nave and has no aisles. (The American University in Cairo Press)
Monk Mikael, holding a pilgrim’s cross, stands by two hand-cut rock cisterns that capture rainfall, which sustains the community for the entire year. (The American University in Cairo Press)
With no space left inside, the faithful stand where they can during a funeral service at Maryam Quiat Church. The entrance to the church is protected from the elements by a modern brick building. The original church windows can be seen in the rock face above. (The American University in Cairo Press)
Ethiopia uses a thirteen-month calendar that dates from the Annunciation of Jesus, with the New Year falling on Sept. 11. (The American University in Cairo Press)
The dry air and lack of humidity have preserved these sixth-century frescoes in their original perfection. On the left cupola are nine of the Apostles. On the right are eight of the Nine Saints. Clockwise from the bottom: Aragawi, Alef, Guba, Tsehema, Pantalewon, Garima, Likanos, and Aftse. (The American University in Cairo Press)
The west facade of the Bete Amanuel church in Lalibela in northern Ethiopia has a stepped plinth, or base, an architectural feature derivative of the royal architecture of Arabia, Mesopotamia, and Iran. (The American University in Cairo Press)
In this Timqat (Epiphany) Festival in Lalibela, the tabots, covered in rich cloth and carried on the heads of priests, are taken out from all the churches and accompanied in a procession of priests, monks, deacons, debtaras, and pilgrims. The priests fast for eighteen hours before carrying the tabot. (The American University in Cairo Press)
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Source – Quartz Africa