History of Art


4. Gännätä Maryam | Yoḥannǝs Mäʿaquddi | Maryam Dǝngǝlat

Gännätä Maryam

The church of Gännätä Maryam (“Garden of Mary”) is a beautiful rock-hewn church located near the holy town of Lalibäla. This basilica sits upon a podium inspired by late antique Ethiopian architecture and is surrounded by an exterior colonnade of square piers. It was probably built as a replica of the Church of Mary of Zion in Aksum, the most sacred church for Orthodox Christian Ethiopians.

The interior and exterior of the church are decorated with wall paintings. Those in the interior were probably executed onto gypsum plaster but the technology has not yet been analysed. The decoration of the church was probably sponsored by the Ethiopian emperor Yǝkunno Amlak (1270–85), founder of the Solomonic dynasty, who is depicted in its wall paintings.


Yoḥannǝs Mäʿaquddi

Opinions about the date of Yoḥannǝs Mäʿaquddi diverge, ranging from mid-14th to mid-17th century. Churches hewn out of rock are difficult to date as the subtractive nature of carving leads to the destruction of earlier phases of creation and often, builders drew inspiration from earlier church types.

Wall paintings can be easier to date, even if they are not necessarily coeval with the church’s foundation. Those in Yoḥannǝs Mäʿaquddi bear an inscription that identifies their patron’s name and records that they were executed in “the 26th year of Emperor Fasilädäs’s reign” (1675 CE). Among the 60 painted figures and scenes found in this church are also portraits of contemporary figures including the donor and Emperor Fasilädäs. This ruler is credited with establishing the city of Gondär as his capital.

Maryam Dǝngǝlat

There are two churches dedicated to Mary at Dǝngǝlat: a new one, at road level, and an ancient rock-hewn church located on a steep slope. The structure may have been built between the 14th and 15th centuries, but a series of rockfalls demolished part of the structure and led to its abandonment after the 17th century. It is now virtually inaccessible.

The interior of the surviving portion of the church contains paintings of exceptional quality dating to the mid-17th century and executed on cloth attached to the walls. Western prints dating to the late 16th and 17th century are pasted on its walls and attest to the presence of Europeans at this time. The current almost pristine condition of the wall paintings is probably due to its inaccessibility.