Ethiopian Icons
April 15, 2003 11:13 AM   Subscribe

Ethiopian Icons: Faith and Science. Richly hued religious art from an African Christian culture.
posted by plep (11 comments total)
while it may be neither here nor there, it's interesting to note that catholic scholars consider the ethiopian orthodox church to be one of the "authentic" sects of christianity around. by authentic i mean closest-to-the-original.

i can't remember the details right now, but it was started by a disciple that wasn't too far down from the first bishop (paul?).
posted by taumeson at 11:44 AM on April 15, 2003

The chemical analysis of the pigments on the Ethiopian Icons page is really a sobering reminder about how challenging access to even the most simple colors was all those centuries ago.

In the book of Acts, the Apostle Paul is reported to have baptised an Ethiopian, so we can see that Ethiopian involvement in Christianity dates back to the early days of Christianity.

St. Mark is considered the first Apostle to Africa when he evangelized Egypt, and the Christians of Egypt consider their liturgy to be descendent from St. Mark's. Mission work between Egyptians (the modern-day Coptic Christians) during the 3rd and 4th centuries in Ethiopia is what is responsible for the the rise of Ethiopian Christianity. Here's some more historical background of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

In a coup reminiscent of the Russian Revolution, the Ethiopian Emperor was overthrown in the 1970s and replaced with a Communist dictatorship that proceeded to destroy the monasteries and persecute the church.

Anyway, this should answer the ubiquitous question during the 80s that, yes, in fact they do know it's Christmas.
posted by deanc at 1:12 PM on April 15, 2003

I'm not sure what you mean, taumeson. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church was founded in the 4th century, well over 200 years after the death of Saint Peter, who Roman Catholics consider the first Pope (Bishop of Rome). It was founded by Saint Frumentius, a Syrian Christian who was shipwrecked in Ethiopia as a boy. I'm don't think there's any connection between Frumentius and any of the Bishops of Rome; Frumentius went to the Bishop of Alexandria for permission to found the Ethiopian Church.

As for being "closest-to-the-original" Christianity, I'm not sure what this means, either. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church, along with the Armenian Orthodox Church, is considered to be one of the two oldest Eastern Orthodox Churches (predating Russian, Greek, etc.--although you can make the argument that the Greek Church begins with the early-fourth-century move of the Roman capital to Constantinople and the conversion of Constantine). Perhaps this is what you mean? As for being close to the Christianity practiced by early Christians (first century AD), I doubt it: hundreds of years of theology and liturgical practice had been built up by the time the Ethiopian Church was founded.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:18 PM on April 15, 2003

deanc :- the family of Haile Sellassie, the last Ethiopian Emperor, has a website which includes a biography of him. Haile Sellassie was an interesting person, and I may venture to suggest that the events of his life made him one of the most interesting figures of the twentieth century - his role in the run-up to World War 2, the connection with Rastafarianism, the manner of his demise etc. He may even be worthy of an FPP in his own right.
posted by plep at 1:31 PM on April 15, 2003

taumeson: I don't know which Catholics you've been talking to, but historically the Catholic Church (and the Orthodox Church, for that matter) have been extremely hostile to monophysitism, which is considered a heresy (it claims that Christ had only one nature rather than uniting human and divine natures), and the Ethiopian Church, like its progenitor, the Coptic Church, as well as the Syrian (Jacobite) and Armenian Churches, is monophysite. The Catholic Encyclopedia article is admirably objective, but after a long account of monophysite literature and history concludes
But the Monophysites always withstood the Catholic doctrine, declaring it to be Nestorian, or half Nestorian [the Nestorians said Christ had two hypostases, sometimes rendered 'persons,' as well as two natures], and that it divided Christ into two.... [S]tarting from the same proposition that every physis [nature] is a hypostasis, the Monophysites argued that a Christ is one Person, one Hypostasis, so He is one Nature, and they preferred "is one nature" to the equivalent "has one nature".... But however harmless the formula "one nature" might look at first sight, it led in fact immediately to serious and disastrous consequences.
If you want to know what those disastrous consequences were, you're going to have to do some serious theological study; the point is we're talking heresy, which in the old days meant grievous bodily harm if they caught you. There are histories of the Ethiopian Church here (short Wikipedia article) and here (much longer). Here's a useful summary of early varieties of Christianity (although, oddly, it omits the Ethiopians).

Oh, and great post, plep!
posted by languagehat at 1:31 PM on April 15, 2003

(Oops, sorry, that first "here" link isn't a history of the Ethiopian Church but of monophysitism. Hard to keep one's links straight when one is trying to cram too much into one comment...)
posted by languagehat at 1:33 PM on April 15, 2003

Haile Sellassie versus Mussolini.
posted by plep at 1:37 PM on April 15, 2003

Dang, this cool--as per plep usual.

Among my most prized possessions is a book of Ethiopian icons made of three carved stone tablets. Now I wonder if they were or were intended to be painted.

Graham Hancock wrote The Sign And The Seal, in which he claimed the Ark of the Convenant was in Axum, Ethiopia--there is suppose to be a replica of the ark in every Ethiopian church--the real Ark is supposedly in the Sanctuary Chapel in Saint Mary of Zion's Church in Axum. It's a pretty story, and one, as well, which most Ethiopians to whom I have spoken take as a matter of fact.
posted by y2karl at 1:57 PM on April 15, 2003

this site is absolutely gorgeous - thanks plep!
posted by madamjujujive at 5:33 PM on April 15, 2003

"Lalibela, meaning "bees obey him," was a birth-name noting that at his birth a swarm of bees alighted on him without harming him. As a youth, Lalibela claimed to have visions and spent some time as a hermit."

"Lalibela attempted a Christian policy of charity and peace, which was largely successful. He secured his borders with new monasteries and developed good relations with the Sultan Saladin, thus easing pressures on the Christians of Egypt and protecting the Ethiopians in Jerusalem. His greatest feat, however, was creating the amazing network of churches, courtyards, and water systems in his capital. Since the entire complex is carved from natural rock below ground level, it has survived intact. Lalibela's tomb is also located there."

More information and photos from Axum, and Lalibela.

The Ark of the Covenant is there too, so the priests ascetics say.

Thanks, plep.
posted by hama7 at 10:02 PM on April 15, 2003

Quoted above text from here.
posted by hama7 at 10:04 PM on April 15, 2003

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