Ethiopian Icons - Faith


Faith: Glossary

"My Father," Ethiopian title of respect given to holy and highly regarded individuals

The archangel Gabriel appears to Mary to announce that she has been chosen to give birth to Christ; the dove represents the Holy Spirit

Mary's ascent into heaven. This is an unusual theme in Ethiopian icons; the composition with the crescent moon support and surround of angels recalls foreign sources.

The first 12 disciples of Christ. Judas Iscariot is often replaced by another saint, generally St. Paul, in Ethiopian icons.

Covenant of Mercy
The moment Christ promises Mary He will grant her requests for those who call upon her. This theme became popular in Ethiopian icons beginning in the 17th century; Christ and Mary are generally depicted standing face to face,

Christ typically wears a red loincloth, is hung from a black cross and is attended by Mary and St. John the Evangelist. Additional details include: the black sun and red moon, the tomb of Adam and skull beneath the cross, Mary's arm upraised in grief and the two crucified thieves.

Descent into Limbo
Christ descends into Limbo between His entombment and the Resurrection to retrieve the souls of the righteous. He is generally depicted with Adam and Eve and holding a triumphal banner. This theme is a visual metaphor for the Resurrection.

Work of art consisting of two panels that are hinged

Equestrian saints
Young male warriors and martyrs shown with either upraised victorious spears or killing a monster. "St. Merkorewos" (St. Mercurius) typically rides a black horse; St. Theodore, a red horse. St. George on a white horse slaying a serpent or dragon is the most common equestrian saint.

Abba Ewostatewos (1273-1352)
He established a monastic order in Ethiopia before leaving for Armenia in 1338 as result of religious dispute. His followers returned to Ethiopia after his death and founded monasteries. Ewostatewos is often shown with other Ethiopian saints.

Flight into Egypt
Joseph and Mary flee Bethlehem with the infant Jesus to escape Herod's men. Salome appears as an attendant and Mary is often shown nursing Jesus in Ethiopian icons.

Abba Gabra Manfas Queddus (died circa 1430-33)
Although foreign born, he was a popular saint venerated in Ethiopia. He is perceived as being especially forgiving of sins and depicted as a monk and a hermit, whose body is concealed by hair, surrounded by wild animals. In the museum's icons he wears a robe and lines portray the hair.

The ecclesiastical language of Ethiopia used on icons

An Ethiopian game, like field hockey, played around Christmas. According to local tradition, the shepherds were playing genna when the angel of God appeared to announce the birth of Christ.

Hanna and Eyachem
Mary's parents; Anne/Anna and Joachim in English

Painting on wood panels used for devotional purposes in churches, not homes, to bless the righteous, punish wrong doers and witness oaths. Ethiopian icons date from the mid-15th century to the present day.

Following Jewish custom, Mary and Joseph present the infant Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem. In Ethiopian icons, Salome may be shown as an attendant and Sts. Hanna and Simeon as embodiments of the forces of prophecy.

A relative of Mary's in early Christian writings (not to be confused with Salome in the St. John the Baptist story). She often appears as an attendant.

Santa Maria Maggiore style
This style of image was derived from an Italian engraving (copied from an icon in Rome's Santa Maria Maggiore), which Jesuit missionaries introduced to Ethiopia early in the 17th century. Typically, Mary wears a blue shawl draped with folds and has a cross on her head and a star on her shoulder. She carries Christ, who is holding a book, in her left arm with her hands crossed. The blessing gesture of both figures is emphasized. Ethiopian artists added a handkerchief, an emblem of high status, twisted around Mary's thumb.

Abba Takla Haymanot (c.1215-1313) of Shoa
Evangelist and founder of a monastic order. The most commonly depicted or consistently identified local Ethiopian saint, he is generally depicted as a monk, sometimes with one leg (not depicted in the museum's icons).

Work of art consisting of three panels that are hinged

Mary, already with child, visits her cousin Elizabeth who, because she is pregnant with St. John the Baptist, recognizes the divine nature of Mary's unborn child. This is a rare theme in Ethiopian icons.