Crosses of Ethiopia
A few months ago, I made a friend
Who is Ethiopian and on the very last day we spoke, before he left for Ethiopia,
He passed on to me, four metal pieces of metal…more like symbols
Of what looked like crosses.
I asked him what these were and he replied that they are Ethiopian Crosses. I had never heard of them, to be honest.
I decided to do some reading on them and here is parts and bits of what I found;
Ethiopian crosses are symbols of Christianity in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Their elaborate, stylized design is markedly distinct from the similar European Christian crosses. Ethiopian crosses are almost always made from elaborate latticework, the intertwined lattice represents everlasting life. No two crosses are exactly identical in style, the artisans who make them being allowed the freedom to exercise a measure of individual taste and creativity in their choice of shape and pattern. Crosses may be of the processional type with a socket at the base so they may be mounted on a staff and carried in church ceremonies or hand-held blessing crosses used by priests in benedictions.
The Lalibela Cross (or Afro Ayigeba) is a large, elaborately decorated processional cross, considered one of Ethiopia‘s most precious religious and historical heirlooms. It is held by the Bet Medhane Alem, the House of the Redeemer of the World, a 12th-century rock-cut church in Lalibela. A priest may rub believers with the cross to bless them or heal them. The style of the cross was common in its time and those of this style are often simply referred to today as “Lalibela crosses”.
The cross is thought to date to the 12th century. It is around 60 centimetres (24 in) long and weighs around 7 kilograms (15 lb). It is made from one piece of metal, either gold, or bronze and gold. The central cross has an elongated descending arm and flared ends surrounded by an elaborately ornamented encircling band. Like many Ethiopian processional crosses, the bottom of the cross is supported by “Adam’s arms”, a motif that realistically or abstractly portrays the arms of Adam. On processional crosses they are draped with brightly colored pieces of cloth for festive occasions.
I did some more digging at southworld.net and this is what I found….
Throughout Ethiopia’s history, crosses have played a major role in the ancient legacy of Christianity. No other symbol is as ever present as the cross in Ethiopian culture and no other country in the world has created such a vast quantity of cross designs as Ethiopia.
The simple original intersection of two arms has developed into an infinite number of variations, inspired by the local culture, as well as by Byzantine and European motifs. The design and decoration of Ethiopian crosses have a spiritual meaning closely related to the deeply felt themes in the local Church, such as the Holy Trinity, the four Evangelists, the twelve Apostles.
The majority of crosses are made of metal, but wood is also frequently used for their production. Crosses made from leather or stone are rare. Metallic crosses are, most of the times, made of iron. But bronze and silver are used as well, while golden crosses are more infrequent.
Hand & Neck crosses
‘Hand’ crosses are smaller than the processional ones, and have, instead of a shaft, a narrow solid handle ending in a base plate or cube. Most of them are very simple and they often incorporate a circle characterized by a variety of designs. Ethiopian hand crosses are carried by priests at the head of processions or used for blessing. A priest meeting a member of his congregation holds out the cross for him or her to kiss.
The hand cross is also the distinctive symbol of office for clergy and is worn by priests as a pendant. The most ancient crosses, which generally date back to the fifteenth century, are usually made of metal, including copper and bronze. In the seventeenth century brass was the most popular metal used for making crosses, while from the 19th century on, the majority of crosses have been made from silver.
‘Hand’ crosses are decorated with incisions like the ‘processional’ crosses, though to a lesser extent due to the smaller size of the cross.
‘Neck’ crosses are by far the most numerous class of crosses in Ethiopia. They are usually small and as the name implies, they are worn suspended round the neck. For this purpose, they have a small ring attached to the top, through which a cord can pass. From the time when Christianity first came to Ethiopia, the sign of Christian faith was the cord (matab), made up of three strands which are woven together. The cord is tied round the neck of a person when he/she is baptised.
The three strands, which are in three different colours, white, red and black, symbolize the Trinity. The term ‘matab’ derives from the verb ‘mataba’, which means ‘to make the sign of the cross’. The sign of the cross is made by joining two fingers together, the index over the middle finger as to make a cross.
‘Neck’ crosses were the most popular, since the first millennium of Christianity, throughout the Roman and Byzantine world and their use was likely introduced in Ethiopia too, though we do not have many examples that can be dated.
Emperor Zara Yaqob (1434-1468) ordered all Christians to wear a cross. The Portuguese priest Francisco Alvares, who lived in the country from 1520 to 1526, in his valuable ‘History of Ethiopia’, wrote that he had seen laymen wearing small black neck crosses made of wood. Wood was the most used material for crosses in the ancient times; this would explain how this type of crosses were unlikely to survive the test of time.
Over time, neck crosses were made with more refined techniques and metals. Filigree is the most suitable technique for refined finishing and an elaborate variety of effects. Wooden crosses are mainly linked to popular art. Professional carpenters, specialists in wood engraving, produce the most elaborate wooden crosses.
They are experts in wood construction for churches: doors, walls or the ‘tabot’, the consecrated wooden altar slab made of wood or stone where the Eucharist is celebrated. While hand and neck crosses are obtained from one single piece of wood, the processional ones can be made up of two or three pieces, which are individually worked and then assembled. Wooden crosses generally resemble those made of metal in design, shape and decorations. (O.R.)
~ How many kinds of crosses do you know, minus this one? ~
Meditation and Mindfulness.
Directly from the drinker’s mouth!
Eating tomorrow TODAY
This is really nice. Thanks for doing all this research and sharing it. I hope people won’t take these crosses as fashion statements and appropriate them because they are more ornate than the European cross.
Ethiopia looks like such an awesome place to visit and explore for yourself! I hope to be able to travel here one day and see it.
😍😍 thank you!
They are so beautiful and I love to collect things like this sometimes. Thanks for sharing the background and so many photos about the crosses. – knycx Journeying
They are definitely different from the cross typical to me. They are elaborate and very pretty, and I am happy to hear about some of the history.
😍😍 I am glad to hear this!
Wow look how lavish these crosses look. I like how no two crosses are the same.
It’s amazing how so many cultures around the world were influenced by Christianity and this symbol! The origin and roots of these engraved images actually run all the way back to early Egyptian times.
I think I wasn’t doing well with this form of art but I figure out thanks to you I need the Lalibela Cross in my life. I will search for it.