Skip to comments.The Mystery of Ethiopian Iconography
Posted on 09/18/2012 12:38:25 PM PDT by marshmallow
Ethiopian Christianity presents many mysteries to us, their unique use of Old Testament typology, their concentric churches, their claim of having the Ark of the Covenent and its use in liturgy these all create an obscure but fascinating question. I went to Ethiopia in 2009 to discover more about their liturgical arts. I would like to share some of my findings with you. This is just to give you a taste since of course one could easily write a book on the subject. I will focus on the Lake Tana churches and mostly one church : Kidana Mhiret on Lake Tana.
First: The Ark
For those who still do not know, Ethiopians claim to have the Ark of the Covenent, which according to their tradition, was stolen by the son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba and brought to Ethiopia. Still according to their traditions, when they converted to Christianity, the Ark continued to play a central role in their worship. The fabled Ark is in a small chapel in Aksum, but each church has a symbolic reproduction of the Ark, a carved box which resembles a table and has inside symbolic reproductions of the tablets of the Law (some of which are actually icons, interestingly enough), which are the sacred center of the church, much like a relic in the altar would be for us. Sometimes the word tabot can be used interchangibly to refer to the box or the tablets inside, which can be confusing.
Tabot in the form of an icon.
Lake Tana and the Centrally planned churches.
The lake Tana Churches, which belong to monasteries on various islands, are some of the most fascinating for an icon lover. Basically wooden huts, they are round in shape with a square building inside. The largest.....
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Thanks for that; honestly, the more I read about the Ethiopian church, the stranger and more mysterious the whole thing seems to be. Then of course there’s the stories about the Knights Templar having been in Ethiopia: see: http://www.lundyisleofavalon.co.uk/templars/tempic05.htm
I read a book about this “Ark” theory which was recently discussed, (and dismissed) on the History Channel in one of its rather shallow explorations of the whereabouts of the Ark.
Then of course there’s the bizarre legacy of the 11 rock-hewn churches of Lalibela.
I don’t know what to think.
I didn’t know until now Ethiopia was 60% Christian.
I had not heard of these churches. Thanks. Wow, what a mystery.
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Probably a stupid question to ask you this but, had you heard of the 11 churches?
The 11 churches are medieval in date, and remarkable structures. Ethiopia’s Christianity purportedly grew out of an independently evolved Yahwehism (since Judaism wouldn’t be the correct term); the Ark of the Covenant story is probably straight-up hokum. If the object could be examined, it would (uneducated guess) turn out to be some kind of Egyptian coffin or coffin-like artifact.
About the Ark story I must completely agree. What fascinates me is what it must have taken build these structures.
I wonder if they had to bore a drainage tube to handle the rain, or if there just isn’t any.