Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

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Ryo HIGUCHI, JSPS Research Fellow (PD) in Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan
Nobuhiro SHIMIZU, PhD Candidate, Graduate School of Media and Governance, Keio University, Japan
Hirofumi SUGAWARA, Associate Professor, Kanazawa University

Cross-in-square structure in Tigray dates from the latter half of the first millennium or later; Ethiopian examples show a distinctive plan, which is related in certain points to buildings abroad, such as those in Greater Syria (e.g. Rusafa and Gerasa) and Armenian or Georgian churches in the Caucasus. The current study, however, casts doubt on any direct influence from those examples. 1) The decline of the Aksumite Empire and the surrender of Greater Syria and the Caucasus to the Islamic Empire from middle of 7th century onwards tended to prevent any direct ecclesiastic influence. Even if some Ethiopians visited those regions, cross-in-square buildings were not a popular building type, and most of them were probably already in ruins. Such visits could therefore not explain why they would choose to imitate this form. 2) Cross-in-square churches, with cruciform structures inscribed into rectangle plans, were distributed elsewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean and even as far West as France. However, these churches differed from those in Tigray, which emphasised transepts piercing two connected bays. It is noteworthy that Cappadocia, one of the densest areas of rock-hewn churches in the Byzantine Empire and close to possible influences from Syria and the Caucasus, has no such church plans. Tigray’s cross-in-square is reminiscent of the domed basilicas pervasive in early Christian times, including those in Egypt. 3) Tigray’s cross-in-square’s centre bay has a flattened ceiling with a curved cross; the ceilings of the cruciform arms are the same height as the centre bay; and domes are only used on the sanctuary. This contrasts with cross-in-square schemes elsewhere, which the centre bay is crowned with a dome at its highest point, and the four arms of the cross are vaulted below the dome. These do not mean, of course, that earlier churches in Tigray, like the one in Zarema, were not influenced from abroad. However, development within Ethiopia seems to be more important factor. Tigray’s cross-in-square should be compared with the other rock-hewn and masonry cross-in-square churches based on the point Christian churches in the several areas moved in parallel towards cross-in-square structures.