The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Book Review - Ethiopian Crosses - A Cultural History and Chronology

Stanislaw Chojnacki with Carolyn Gossage

Reviewer - Robert Farwell


How good it is that Prof. Chojnacki, at well past 90, is still writing!

This book, in collaboration with Carolyn Gossage, is an account of Ethiopian crosses in all media and of all periods from Axumite times onwards. It is fully illustrated with pictures of both the crosses themselves and of their representation in paintings, in relief on coins and buildings, even as tattoos, and is excellent value.

Other scholars’ classifications are reviewed but Prof. Chojnacki himself emphasises the way Ethiopians themselves see the crosses. He describes the crosses used by the clergy — the hand crosses all clergy carry, the larger ones used ceremonially in the Eucharist, and processional crosses. Then there are crosses on walking staffs, neck pendants and other personal forms, even the tattoos that many Ethiopians have. The scope is great. In developing a history, few crosses being individually dateable, use is made of written record of gifts or liturgical practice; travellers’ accounts in which crosses are mentioned; any dateable inscriptions or attested attributions; and especially of broadly-dateable paintings in which crosses are seen, the assumption being that painters were showing the crosses of their day. Even the coins of Axum are made to tell their story, and the whole is very satisfying.

If I have a grumble it is the slavish use of diacritics and special symbols, to the extent that some names are barely recognisable and are certainly unpronounceable; even Emperor Haile Selassie is not allowed his familiar form. Scholarly work is perfectly possible without this kowtowing to linguistic specialists — see Marilyn Heldman’s African Zion for example, where the simple latin alphabet is used.

I thoroughly commend this book. If you want to feast your eyes on a superb further range of reproductions of, especially, processional crosses, then buy also Mario di Salvo’s Crosses of Ethiopia (same publisher and year). His text, however, emphasises geometrical classification of designs and does not, to me, bring the subject to life as Prof. Chojnacki has.

Ethiopian Crosses by Stanlislaw Chojnacki with Caroline Gossage, published by Skira, 2006.
Hardcover 296 pages,
168 colour and 43 b&w photos
ISBN: 8876248315
Price: 30 euro

First Published in News File Summer 2007

Opinions expressed in the articles are those of the authors and not necessarily the views of the Society.
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