Skip to comments.Medieval Houses Of God, Or Ancient Fortresses?
Posted on 10/19/2004 5:52:31 PM PDT by blam
Medieval Houses of God, or Ancient Fortresses?
Volume 57 Number 6, November/December 2004
by David Keys
Cambridge archaeologist has redated the church of the archangel Gabriel, previously believed to have been carved from the rock at Lalibela, Ethiopia, around A.D. 1200, to between A.D. 600 and 800. The church may originally have been built as a fortress. (Courtesy Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology, Cambridge)
Investigations in Lalibela, Ethiopia, are revealing that Africa's most important historical Christian site is much older than previously thought. Up until now, scholars have regarded the spectacular complex of 11 rock-cut churches as dating from around A.D. 1200, but new survey work carried out by a British archaeologist suggests that three of the churches may have originally been "built" half a millennium earlier as fortifications or other structures in the waning days of the Axumite Empire.
"The discovery will completely change the way historians perceive the origins of Africa's most famous indigenous Christian site," says David Phillipson, professor of African archaeology at Cambridge University. His research, to be fully published next year, suggests that two of the churches, those of Merkurios (a local Ethiopian saint) and the archangel Gabriel, were initially carved out of the rock as some sort of elite palace or fortress complex. A third structure created in that same early period later became the church of Danagel (the Virgin Martyrs). The Merkurios and Gabriel structures were built in highly defensible positions and may well have been the core of a fortified complex created during the politically unstable period that saw the disintegration of the Axumite Empire in the mid-seventh century A.D. At its peak in the third to sixth centuries A.D., that empire controlled much of northern Ethiopia and Eritrea, and at times Yemen and even part of the Nile Valley.
Phillipson bases his new chronology of Lalibela on the monuments' architectural styles, their complex structural interrelationships, and comparisons with other monuments in Ethiopia. He believes that at least four of the site's 11 churches were constructed specifically as places of worship in the tenth or eleventh century, with a further three or four built by the mid-thirteenth century. According to Phillipson, it now seems that that late period was simply the time when the complex attained its greatest religious importance, and not when it was begun.
This new research also demonstrates a substantial continuity between the Axumite civilization, which adopted Christianity in the fourth century, and that of medieval Ethiopia. In fact, a number of architectural features found in Axumite churches were employed in the design of Lalibela's tenth- and eleventh-century rock-cut churches.
Neat ... those churches are an amazing site, and Ethiopian Christianity is fascinating. I support a Catholic seminarian in Ethiopia, a beautiful young man.
fascinating. The Ethiopian connection to Chritianity -particularly very early Christianity- is often overlooked. Some even suport the Holy Grail being located in Ethiopia.
There are times when I wish that we controlled the old Roman territories, if just for archaeological purposes. Good stuff blam.
Good for you.
Gabriel is the one who gave Abraham the rock(meteorite) that he gave to Mohammad and that the Islamists now worship.
I read that some even believe the archangel Gabriel was the meteorite.
It's always fascinating to delve into the roots of early Christianity.
Axumite Empire ?
Interesting ... that's not a tradition I'm familiar with. Next time I write to Brother Yohannes (whose English is pretty good :-), I'll ask about the relationship of his community with the Moslems and Ethiopian Orthodox Christians.
Google it ... sometimes it's spelled "Aksum."
Great link! I'll be looking at this with my kids tomorrow!
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If you think of the Grail as a physical Cup of Christ, who knows? And why Ethiopia?
But if you can accept the Gnostic tradition of the Grail as the blood(-line) of Christ, then the legend of Mary Magdalene escaping from Roman power to Ethiopia (and then on to Gaul), it would make more sense. JIMO.
Some also believe that the Ark of the Covenant is in Ethiopia.
Are you referring to the Ka'aba stone? I've never heard that particular story. Are we talking about the Biblical Abraham? If so, how did Abraham give the stone to Mohammad, seeing as they were separated by 2600 or so years?
Good question...I never thought of the timeline...just something I read. (apparently wrong, huh?)
Just updating the GGG info, not sending a general distribution.
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