Jerusalem through the pages: Experiencing the loca sancta in early Solomonic Ethiopia

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has deep ties with Jerusalem and the loca sancta. Pilgrimage to Jerusalem has been an important act of devotion for Christian Ethiopians from the late antique period to the present. Its sacred geography has shaped the toponomy of Ethiopia. Hagiographic works in Ge‘ez relate tales of miraculous journeys of holy men to and from the sacred city to Ethiopia. Yet, Jerusalem has been ever present also in the daily life of the faithful who never left the country. This paper seeks to explore how Jerusalem and the loca sancta were constantly evoked through the arts and liturgy of the Ethiopian Church during the early Solomonic period (1270- 1527), whether it be through haptic encounters with replicas of the Anastasis in Lalibela or by witnessing processions that evoked Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem and the bearing of the Ark of the Covenant in the days of King David. By showing how texts, and forms – architectural and artistic – were interconnected and embedded with multiple layers of meaning, this paper will show that the intermedial character of early Solomonic art, combined with the other cognitive and sensory experiences produced by the liturgical and devotional activities of the congregation, allowed the faithful to intellectually and sensually experience pilgrimage to Jerusalem – understood as both a physical place and a transcendent entity – on a daily basis.

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