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A Contextual Reading of Ethiopian Crosses through Form and Ritual


Kaleidoscopes of Meaning


An exploration of the ways in which crosses reflect and shape ideas and practices in Ethiopian culture: from religious values and rituals to magic and apocalyptic beliefs, and from individual identities to socio-political structures and power relations.
Publisher: Gorgias Press LLC
Availability: In stock
SKU (ISBN): 978-1-4632-0578-2
  • *
Publication Status: In Print

Publication Date: Feb 26,2018
Interior Color: Color
Trim Size: 6 x 9
Page Count: 382
Language: English
ISBN: 978-1-4632-0578-2
$95.00
$76.00
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Ethiopia is unique among Christian lands for the incomparable prominence of the cross in the life of its people and for the inexhaustible variety and intricacy of decorative patterns on cross-shaped objects of all kinds. Crosses of wondrous diversity and sophistication are extensively used in religious and magic rituals, as well as in the daily social interactions and personal experiences of people in a variety of contexts. This book explores the ways in which Ethiopian crosses reflect and shape a broad range of ideas, from religious beliefs to interrelated socio-political values, and from individual notions of identity and protection to cultural constructs of local and universal dimensions. Thus the cross of the Ethiopian tradition emerges as the sacred matrix that encompasses the life of the world in both its microcosmic and macrocosmic dimensions; and as the social and cultural nexus through which and with which people interact in order to shape and express personal and communal identities and hopes.

The investigation includes textual and visual evidence, as well as aspects of Ethiopian history and cultural tradition, and highlights elements of both continuity and change. Special attention is given to religious rituals in which crosses guide the participants to internalize abstract ideas central to their culture, through sensorial experience and interaction. A main objective of this analysis is to contribute to an understanding of visual creations as interactive depositories and therefore also generators of ideas, with an influential role in identity formation, socio-cultural interactions and the construction of power relations.

Ethiopia is unique among Christian lands for the incomparable prominence of the cross in the life of its people and for the inexhaustible variety and intricacy of decorative patterns on cross-shaped objects of all kinds. Crosses of wondrous diversity and sophistication are extensively used in religious and magic rituals, as well as in the daily social interactions and personal experiences of people in a variety of contexts. This book explores the ways in which Ethiopian crosses reflect and shape a broad range of ideas, from religious beliefs to interrelated socio-political values, and from individual notions of identity and protection to cultural constructs of local and universal dimensions. Thus the cross of the Ethiopian tradition emerges as the sacred matrix that encompasses the life of the world in both its microcosmic and macrocosmic dimensions; and as the social and cultural nexus through which and with which people interact in order to shape and express personal and communal identities and hopes.

The investigation includes textual and visual evidence, as well as aspects of Ethiopian history and cultural tradition, and highlights elements of both continuity and change. Special attention is given to religious rituals in which crosses guide the participants to internalize abstract ideas central to their culture, through sensorial experience and interaction. A main objective of this analysis is to contribute to an understanding of visual creations as interactive depositories and therefore also generators of ideas, with an influential role in identity formation, socio-cultural interactions and the construction of power relations.

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Contributor Biography

Maria Evangelatou

Maria Evangelatou is Associate Professor of Mediterranean Studies in the History of Art and Visual Culture Department, at the University of California Santa Cruz, where she teaches courses on the visual cultures of Ancient Greece, Byzantium, and the Islamic world. She earned her BA in archaeology at the University of Ioannina, Greece, and her MA and Ph.D. in Byzantine studies at the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London. She holds a Diploma in art history from the University of East Anglia, Norwich, and a degree in museology and conservation of works of art from the Universitá Internationale dell'Arte, Florence. She has been a postdoctoral fellowships at the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection in Washington DC, the Program in Hellenic Studies at Princeton University, the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies in Toronto and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. Her research and publications focus on visual culture and religious experience in the Eastern Mediterranean and especially in the Byzantine cultural sphere, with special emphasis on the interaction of word and image in illustrated manuscripts, and the construction of female identities through the cult of Mary. 

Table of Contents (v)
Preface (vii)
Acknowledgements (xi)
Introduction (1)
Chapter one. Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity (29)
Chapter two. The cross in the context of Ethiopian Christian culture (63)
   A note on terminology (74)
   Introducing the material (77)
   Types and functions of Ethiopian crosses (82)
   Symbolism in Christian Ethiopian culture (119)
Chapter three. Interpreting Ethiopian crosses: the symbolic language of form (131)
   The textile-like references of open work: a multilayered symbol (132)
   Visualizing the social fabric on Ethiopian crosses (184)
   The image of the honeycomb in the body of Ethiopian crosses (200)
   Materiality and immateriality: sanctifying the world in all its dimensions (207)
   The cross and the Tree of Life: from theology to daily experience (216)
   The cross and the waters of life: universal symbols and local meanings (235)
   Inscribing holiness: saints on Ethiopian crosses (249)
   Inscribing Ethiopia on the cross: Mary and the Ark of the Covenant (268)
Chapter four. A theoretical approach to Ethiopian crosses: The fabric of ritual and the tree of culture (299)
   Visibility (299)
   Constructing meaning: investigating terms of fluidity and multiplicity (315)
Conclusion. Ethiopian crosses as timeful generative assemblies of meaning and doing (341)
   Timefulness (342)
   Meaning and doing (345)
   Generative assembly (347)
Bibliography (351)

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