30 May 2014
A painting of the Virgin Mary hangs on the wall of Our Lady of Zion Church in Aksum, Ethiopia.
(photo: Sean Sprague)
As May draws to a close — the month devoted to the Virgin Mary — we get a glimpse at a colorful depiction of Mary from Ethiopia (above) and offer some insight into the place where it originated. From the March 2011 issue of ONE:
Located in Ethiopia’s far northern region of Tigray, Aksum is the former capital of an empire that dominated the Horn of Africa from the third century B.C. to the eighth century after Christ. Home of the fabled queen of Sheba, Aksum is best known as the cradle of Ethiopian Christianity, which became the faith of the empire when the Aksumite emperor, Ezana, embraced it in the early fourth century. Today, Ethiopia’s Christian majority is mostly Orthodox.
Since its earliest days, Aksum has been a center for sophisticated and distinctive decorative arts and crafts, especially metalwork, woodcarving and painting. Scholars believe that soon after Christianity took root in the city, artists began fashioning items utilized in the Qeddase (or Divine Liturgy), mainly ecclesiastical crowns, crosses, fans, icons and manuscripts. Geometric carvings, first utilized in pre-Christian era art of the area, predominated.
Not until the late 16th century, after Portuguese Jesuit missionaries arrived in Ethiopia and dazzled Aksum’s elite with their early Baroque artifacts, did local artists begin adding the finer flourishes that many now associate with traditional Ethiopian liturgical art. Manuscript cases, for example, became more intricate and featured figurative and geometric forms; manuscript pages contained delicate and colorful designs, as well as images of the saints, the Virgin Mary and Christ.
Read more about Ethiopia’s Vibrant Sacred Art from the March 2011 issue of ONE.
Tags: Ethiopia Orthodox