The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Lecture - ONLINE - Bastions of the Cross: Medieval Rock-Cut Cruciform Churches of Tigray

Mikael Muehlbauer

Thursday 21st March 2024

Online event starting at 19:00 GMT - Public lecture (all welcome to join).

Note - Register for the event on Eventbrite and you'll be emailed a Zoom link shortly before the event.


In the late eleventh century, Ethiopian masons hewed great cruciform churches out of mountains in the eastern highlands of Tigray, Ethiopia’s northernmost province. Hitherto unparalleled in scale, these monuments were royal foundations, instruments of political centralization and re-Christianization that anticipated the great thirteenth century churches at Lalibela.

Bastions of the Cross, the first study devoted to the subject, examines the cruciform churches of Abreha wa-Atsbeha, Wuqro Cherqos, and Mika’el Amba and connects them to one of the great architectural movements of the Middle Ages: the millennial revival of the early Byzantine aisled, cruciform church. These were also the first to incorporate vaulting, and uniquely did so in the service of centralized spatial hierarchy. Through resuscitated pilgrimage networks, Ethiopian craftsmen revisited architectural types abandoned since Late Antiquity, while Islamic mercantile channels brought precious textiles from South Asia that inspired trans-material conceptions of architectural space.

Bastions of the Cross reveals the eleventh century, in contrast to its popular reputation as a “dark age,” to be a forgotten watershed in the architectural history of Ethiopia and Eastern Christianity.

Mikael Muehlbauer is an award-winning author and specialist in the architecture of medieval Ethiopia and Egypt. He earned his PhD in Art History and Archaeology from Columbia University in 2020 with a dissertation on cruciform plan churches in Tigray, published by Dumbarton Oaks Press in 2023. Bastions of the Cross: Medieval Rock Cut Cruciform Churches of Tigray, Ethiopia is the first academic study of cruciform-plan churches in northern Ethiopia, informed by extensive field research and site documentation there. Mikael Muehlbauer's research has been supported by numerous grants and fellowships, including from the ACLS, Villa I Tatti, Dumbarton Oaks, the American Research Center in Egypt, and the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research. Mikael's research has been published in Gesta, Muqarnas, the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, West 86th, and Aethiopica, as well as in a number of edited volumes.



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Bastions of the Cross: Medieval Rock-Cut Cruciform Churches of Tigray, Ethiopia book cover Bastions of the Cross: Medieval Rock-Cut Cruciform Churches of Tigray, Ethiopia by Mikael Muehlbauer
Publisher: Dumbarton Oaks, 22 March 2024 UK (24 October 2023 USA)
ISBN: 9780884024972 (hardback), UK RRP £75.95

First Published in News File Summer 2023

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