Ethiopian Crosses

Ethiopian Crosses

Contents:



THE (COPTIC) CROSSES OF ETHIOPIA

The symbol of the Cross has played an important part in the Ethiopian church from early Christian times. It was already stamped on the coins of the Aksumite Kingdom in the 4th century. King Ezana was the first King to use the Cross on coins. Since then, the Cross symbol has developed and evolved in Ethiopia more forms than are probably found anywhere else.

Ethiopian Processional Crosses
The term "processional crosses" refers to crosses which have a hollow shaft for mounting on a wooden handle, so that they can be carried above the heads of people in religious ceremonies. In church ceremonies they are used for the blessing of the congregation, the baptismal water, the sacraments and the four corners of the church after the Eucharist. They are taken out of the church and carried in processions on certain feast days. Because of this function they tend to be large and impressive.

Ethiopian Hand Crosses
Ethiopian hand crosses are smaller than the processional crosses, and have, instead of a shaft, a narrow solid handle endign in a base plate or cube. Ethiopian hand crosses are carried by priests, and used by them for blessing. A priest meeting a member of his congregation holds out the cross for him or her to kiss.Hand crosses are also carried by priests in processions, and some large crosses in the form of a hand cross are used as altar crosses in church ceremonies.

Ethiopian Neck Crosses
In the 15th century, Emperor Zara Ya'eqob decreed that every Christian should wear a neck cross. As the name implies, neck crosses are worn suspended round the neck. For this purpose they have a small ring attached to the top, throug which a cord or chain can pass. They are by far the the most numerous class of crosses in Ethiopia. From the time when Christianity first came to Ethiopia, the sign of Christian faith has been the cord (matab) which was tied round the neck of a person when he was baptised. Sometimes a small cross was suspended from the matab, sometimes a cross hung from another cord or chain as an additional mark of Christianity.

Wooden Crosses
Some of the most beautiful Ethiopian crosses were made of wood. They include processional crosses, hand crosses and neck crosses. Because the process of their manufacture and the development of the craft were entirely different from those of the metal crosses, they have to be treated as a separate class.



THE PARTS OF ETHIOPIAN (COPTIC) CROSSES

Ethiopian Processional Crosses
The threee main parts of an Ethiopian processional cross are the cross, the shaft and the lower arms. The original and most important part is the cross itself. The two other parts have a functional origin growing out of the particular use of the Cross. The lower arms are a peculiarly Ethiopian addition to the processional cross an possibly started as small rings or loops at the lower end of it for the hanging of the cloth which accompanied the Cross when it was in use.

When the crosses grew bigger and heavier in relation to the shaft, it became necessary to give them extra support. This was achieved by making the lower arms larger and fastening them to the shaft.and to the cross, so that the entire cross was joined to the shaft at three points instead of one. The shaft and the lower arms, being more functional and not so strictly dependet on religious tradition, are often as significant in the classification and dating as the cross itself, if not more so. As no rules were laid down, different makers used ifferent ways of solving the problems connected with the making and function of these parts.

Ethiopian Hand Crosses
The hand crosses consits of the cross, the handle and the base.
The form of the base varies, and its purpose is uncertain. It adds balance to the cross and forms a bar at the end of the handle, wich is often thin, enabling the hand to get a firm grip. It is also sometimes usded for an inscription, a prayer or a blessing, or identification of the owner. The basic cross forms of ethiopian coptic hand crosses a often very similar to those of ethiopian coptic processional crosses, but tend to be simplified, being smaller.

Ethiopian Neck Crosses
The coptic neck crosses show the greatest variety of forms, including most known forms of crosses and finials, with many variations only found in Ethiopia. The fact that the Collection in the Institute of Ethiopian Studies includes over 1.000 (!) neck crosses without a single duplicate gives some idea of the diversity.

Besides the variations of the basic cross form, there are four types of addition to this:

  1. The first ist the attachement of a ring to the superior arm or finial of the cross, which ist the most common form.
  2. The second is a hinge between the superior arm and superior finial.
  3. The third is the replacement of the inferior finia by an ear-cleaner in the form of a tiny spoon. Ear-Cleaners of various forms are often worn on a cord round the neck, and these ear-cleaner crosses simply combine the two purposes.
  4. The fourth elaboration is the making of a hollow cross, the back of which is hinged and can be opened; it is usally fastened with a pin through rings, and is obviously meant to contain a relic or charm. These hollow "locket" crosses are not at all common.


HOW ETHIOPIAN (COPTIC) CROSSES ARE MADE

The lost wax method
Nearly all the Ethiopian coptic processional crosses, hand crosses and neck crosses were made by the cire perdue or lost wax method. The image of the cross was first made out of wax. The wax was then covered with fine clay all round, leaving two channels in the clay. The clay was heated or baked so that the wax melted and ran out through the channels, leaving an empty cross-shaped core. the molten metal was then poured into this mould and allowed to set. To reveal the cross, the mould had to be broken and could not be used twice. By the lost wax method, each cross had to be made individually.

The cutting-out method
Another method used for the production of some brass, silver and iron crosses was the cutting-out method. Th image of the cross was traced on a sheetof metal and then cut or punched out. Crosses made by this method are thinner than those made by the lost wax method.

Made by forging
Iron crosses, except for those that were cut out, were probably made by forging, as the techniques of iron smelting necessary for casting came to Africa only at a fairly recent date. However, some designs of the iron processional crosses were very similar to those of copper or bronze crosses made by the lost wax method, and the final answer to the question of their manufacture can only be found throug xcientific examination of the crosses.

Whichever way the cross was made, it was usually finisched afterwards with incised or stamped designs. The designs used were of three main types:

  1. Incised lines used to define and elaborate the component parts of the cross, like, for example, the lines defining the overlapping of strapwork.
  2. Ornamental borders and other patterns used purely for decoration.
  3. Incised pictorial illustrations showing figures and scenes of religious significance.

Examples also exist of crosses decorated wieht inlaying in other metals, precious stones or amber, but these were evidently very rare. Ethiopian crosses relied for effect on the beauty and intricacy of design and the great skill of their making rather than on precdious metals and stones.


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Handkreuze
Handkreuze sind kleiner als Vortragekreuze und haben an Stelle eines Schaftes einen schmalen, massiven Griff. Jeder äthiopische Priester besitzt ein solches Handkreuz und trägt es ständig bei sich. Er legt es den Gläubigen zum Segnen auf die Stirn und diese küssen das Kreuz.

Halskreuze
Im 15. Jahrhundert erlies Kaißer Zara Jakob dann ein Dekret, wonach alle Christen ein Kreuz um den Hals tragen sollten. Zu diesem Zweck wird ein kleiner Ring am Kopfbalken befestigt, durch den eine Schnur (mateb) oder Kette gezogen werden kann. Seit der Christianisierung Äthiopiens im 4. Jahrhundert war schon immer die Schnur (mateb) das Zeichen des christlichen Glaubens, welche bei der Taufe um den Hals des neuen Christen geschlungen wurde. Manchmal hing ein kleines Kreuz an dieser Schnur.


Formen äthiopischer Kreuze

Besuchen Sie diese Seite bald wieder. Denn schon in Kürze lesen Sie an dieser Stelle mehr über die besonderen Formen der äthiopischen Kreuze.


Kreuzesverehrung in Äthiopien
Dorothea R. Killus, 2008.

Ein Merkmal des in Nordafrika gelegenen äthiopischen Reiches, das schon im 4. Jahrhundert das Christentum annahm, ist die Allgegenwart des Kreuzes, das auch von Nichtchristen hoch geachtet wird. Es begegnet einem in Hunderten von Spielarten, angefangen bei den kleinen Anhängerkreuzen über die vom Kirchenvolk innig geküßten Handkreuze der Priester und die großen Prozessionskreuze bis hin zu den weithin sichtbaren Dachkreuzen der Sakralbauten. Auch wird Kleidung mit dem Kreuz geschmückt, und es erscheint auf die Stirn oder Brust eintätowiert.

Dabei hat jede Gegend ihre eigene Kreuzesform entwickelt, bei deren Gestaltung in vielen Variationen auch Motive wie das des Lebensbaums und des Vogels oder die 4 als die Evangelistenzahl und die 5 als die der Wundmale Christi einbezogen werden. In Gondar etwa ist ein Kreuz heimisch, bei dem aus einem Quadrat eine Blume hervorwächst und das in Widderhörner ausläuft; in der Provinz Shoa, wo die Hauptstadt liegt, wird das Malteserkreuz oder ein Kreuz im Davidstern bevorzugt. Als das schönste Kreuz gilt das nach dem weltbekannten Lalibela benannte. Seine Grundform ist ein Oval, in dem die Trinität und die Schöpfung repräsentiert sind; um den Bogen gruppieren sich die 12 Apostel, und Flügelpaare stehen für das geistliche Leben der Christen.

Während vor allem die Silberkreuze zu den schönsten Gebilden äthiopischer Kirchenkunst gehören, verbindet sich mit dem Kreuz stets auch ein inneres Geheimnis. So verhindern beim Prozessionskreuz Stoffbahnen, dass der Träger es versehentlich berührt. Das "Fest der Auffindung des Kreuzes" (durch die Kaiserin Helena) gilt als eines der höchsten in der äthiopisch-orthodoxen Kirche und als das wichtigste Sakrament das Sich-bekreuzigen - Akt der Vergegenwärtigung des Leidens und Sterbens Jesu Christi.

Doch die Vergegenwärtigung geht noch weiter: Der im 15. Jahrhundert ergangenen Verordung des Köngis und Theologen Zar'a Ya`cob, dass jeder Christ ein Kreuz zu tragen habe, wird bis heute Folge geleistet. Wer es tut, sondert sich von Heiden und Moslems aus und macht sich als Zugehöriger zum Gottesvolk kenntlich. Für eine Braut dürfte es einer der bewegendsten Momente sein, wenn der Bräutigam ihr bei der Hochzeit ein kostbares Kreuz überreicht, das sie fortan um den Hals tragen wird, als ein mit den Sinnen erfaßbares Zeichen des perönlich zugeeigneten Heils. Denn: "Die Kirche lehrt, dass das Kreuz eine Zusammenfassung des Glaubens und der Erlösung ist. Es erinnert an die Bindung an Jesus Christus und gilt als starke Waffe im Kampf gegen das Böse".

Weshalb also, fragen wir, die äußere Verehrung des Kreuzes? Um seiner bewußten Verinnerlichung willen! Dabei geht es nicht nur um Christi Sterben, sondern auch um sein Auferstandensein und das ewige Leben.

Erstveröffentlichung in der Zeitschrift DIAKRSIS 1-2008 (Hrsg.: Institut Diakrisis, Gomaringen bei Tübingen). Abdruck mit freundlicher Genhemigung.


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