A whitewashed neo-Renaissance façade set into a high rock escarpment above the village of Abreha wa-Atsbeha, in East Tigray, Ethiopia, stands in stark contrast to its sunbaked highland surroundings. Behind this façade is a relatively large rock-cut structure, one of the oldest medieval church buildings in Ethiopia. An Italian Renaissance Face on a “New Eritrea”: The 1939 Restoration of the Church of Abreha wa-Atsbeha addresses how the restoration of this church conducted by Italian Fascist authorities represents the appropriation of local history by both Fascist Italy and Ethiopia's own imperial rulers. As Mikael Muehlbauer describes, while the façade classicizes the building, evoking both the Italianita of the Renaissance and the Romanitas of imperial Rome, earlier murals inside claimed it for Yohannes IV, the nineteenth-century Tigrayan emperor of Ethiopia.

Sometime in the period from 1936 to 1939, the new Italian overlords of the Adigrat regional governorate, in the newly formed Africa Orientale Italiana, identified several old churches among the hundreds dotting the Tigrayan highlands in present-day Ethiopia.1  Chosen by the new government for their relative accessibility or their esteemed religious or historical status, these buildings were determined worthy of restoration. As work on the churches began in 1939, the Fascist regional governor Dr. Giuseppe Barbate wrote:

Work is under way as reported in the dossiers of the previous months. Within days, the restoration of two important convents of the circoscrizione [Adigrat regional governorate] will be begun by the local Section OO.PP. [Public Works Department], namely, the Gunde Gunde convent (in the Sease district) and Enda Abreha Azbeha [monastery of Abreha wa-Atsbeha] (in the Aiba Ghemad district). The importance of the two convents [and] the interest of the government [in these monuments] has aroused a very favorable impression.2 

Just who was so impressed is unclear, but it might very well have been the native Tigrayan populace. Indeed, this northern Ethiopian ethnic group was accustomed to second-class status under the Amhara-focused policies of the former sovereign, Haile Selassie, and his predecessors.3  In “New Eritrea,” as it was then known, the Italian colonizers aimed to give their subjects certain privileges, including infrastructural improvements and new and refurbished places of worship.

Today, the church of Abreha wa-Atsbeha stands in stark contrast to its larger setting (Figure 1). Typical buildings of the town are hudmos: small, square-plan residences made of semidressed local rubble faced with mud and roofed with timber, mud, and thatch—today largely corrugated aluminum sheeting. The church's whitewashed-plaster, Renaissance revival façade is an anomaly in the sunbaked, reddish-brown, highland landscape of East Tigray.4  From outside, one would not guess that the façade conceals a relatively large, ancient rock-cut structure, one of the oldest and most architecturally distinct churches in Tigray. Yet this building has been little noted by scholars, its bibliography made up mostly of short pieces written by nonspecialists.5  Italian involvement with the façade's construction has been completely overlooked, except for one short mention in a 1954 travelogue by Beatrice Playne.6 

Figure 1

Church of Abreha wa-Atsbeha, Tigray, Ethiopia, tenth–eleventh centuries, new façade by Giuseppe Miari, 1939 (author's photo).

Figure 1

Church of Abreha wa-Atsbeha, Tigray, Ethiopia, tenth–eleventh centuries, new façade by Giuseppe Miari, 1939 (author's photo).

The restorations of this and other Tigrayan churches were not simply useful public works conducted by a benevolent occupying force. “The territories now welded to Eritrea [Tigray],” as one internal Italian memo put it, “represent with their large population a ‘safe nursery’ of future Askari [African colonial troops] for our battalions.”7  The Italians believed that the goodwill of their Tigrayan subjects would serve larger schemes of the Fascist colonial project, including industrial agriculture, mining, settler colonialism, and defense. Furthermore, they sought to link these historic Ethiopian structures to Italy's own imperial past. While the restorations of nearby Gunde Gunde monastery are barely noticeable today, the rebuilt face of Abreha wa-Atsbeha provides a direct expression of then-fashionable Italian revival styles.8  Through an unnecessary restoration of this ancient church, complete with new façade, the Fascist government attempted to subsume a burgeoning Tigrayan nationalism within a unified New Eritrea.

Yet traces of earlier Ethiopian interventions remain visible at Abreha wa-Atsbeha, as the church's west end was restored at least twice, with the most obvious work having been done during the reign of Yohannes IV, the nineteenth-century Tigrayan emperor of Ethiopia. The 1939 Italian restoration was undoubtedly an imperialist act, and the choice of a neo-Renaissance façade represented an appropriation of this building for Fascist Italy, one that aimed to historicize and classicize Ethiopia's past according the colonizer's terms. Further, the 1939 restoration campaign effectively displaced Ethiopia's own uses of its historical past through the imposition of an Italian face.

A New Eritrea

In 1935–36, the Kingdom of Italy, emboldened by the ideology of Benito Mussolini, undertook a second invasion of Ethiopia, after a failed first attempt in 1896. At that time, foreign finance capital, French rifles, and Russian artillery buttressed the armies of Emperor Menelik II, and the Italians were soundly defeated.9  However, in the 1930s the armies of Haile Selassie were effectively blockaded from foreign support as the result of appeasement of Mussolini's Italy by the League of Nations. Despite some moderate military successes against the Italians, the mostly feudal and ill-equipped armies of the Ethiopian Empire were quickly overrun by Italian weapons and air superiority.10 

Italy already had a solid foothold in northeast Africa. Although the conquest of the independent kingdom of Ethiopia, which sat farther inland in the Horn of Africa, was the territorial goal of the Italian colonists, the Red Sea coast had gradually been both conquered and bought by Italy beginning in the late 1860s. Italy's first acquisition, in 1869, involved a private land purchase by the Genovese merchant Raffaele Ribattino of a small Red Sea port belonging to the local sultan.11  By the time the colony's territories were finalized in the 1890s, “Old Eritrea” amounted to a coastal enclave that included the deepwater Red Sea port of Massawa and the burgeoning inland capital of Asmara, all well connected by a railway.12 

With the invasion of Ethiopia completed in 1936, the newly conquered territories were combined with the older Italian holdings of Eritrea and Somalia. Under the auspices of the newly formed Africa Orientale Italiana, Eritrea became an Italian province, one whose size was nearly doubled with the inclusion of all of modern Tigray (where the church of Abreha wa-Atsbeha is today), about half of the barren Afar district, and a portion of northern Amhara (Figure 2). Whether this expansion was seen more as a gift to what Italians called la colonia primogenita—that is, Eritrea—or as a pragmatic move toward a cohesive Tigrinya-speaking administrative unit within the AOI, the result was a complete change in the character of the province. “The ‘Eritrean colony’ has disappeared,” began an internal memo of 1936. It continued:

Eritrea is in the midst of a remarkable awakening with the advent of fascism and fascist governors… . For the first time, local problems—the development of indigenous agriculture and of the natives’ livelihoods—are in the foreground. Afterward … [we will begin] agricultural colonization of an industrial type… . [Old] Eritrea is a small, rugged country … [with] too many possibilities for such a small territory, and … [it is] almost completely impossible to resolve the territory's two main problems: that of the indigenous population and [Italian] settlement.13 

Produced soon after the conquest, this memo, titled “La Nuova Eritrea,” described how the metropole might better engage with and accommodate the inherent problems of this newly expanded colony.14  The expansion of Italian territory in East Africa was a means to an end for settler colonialism. New Eritrea would fulfill what Old Eritrea could not, serving as a springboard for industrial agriculture and secure Italian settlement. Public works expenditures show that Italian authorities sought to integrate the new with the old and to run their new colony more efficiently through improved infrastructure, including paved roads, electric grids, and aqueducts.15 

Figure 2

Map of Africa Orientale Italiana published by the Istituto Geografico Militare, Florence, 1936, showing new administrative boundaries (Wikimedia Commons).

Figure 2

Map of Africa Orientale Italiana published by the Istituto Geografico Militare, Florence, 1936, showing new administrative boundaries (Wikimedia Commons).

Asmara remained the colony's crown jewel and primary economic engine. There, and in other colonial cities where Italian settlement was high, society was racially segregated. The built environment largely reflected this policy.16  However, by the time of Eritrea's enlargement in the late 1930s, Italians were beginning to place new emphasis on the welfare of their African colonial urban subjects, with huge projects such as markets, slaughterhouses, and hospitals built specifically for the indigeni.17  As noted by historian Gianluca Podesta, Italy's colonial policies from 1935 to 1941 were unusual for the quantity and quality of overseas investments. Some 10 percent of total Italian government spending went into the AOI, where funds were disproportionately allocated for projects in New Eritrea.18 

Italian colonial social policy was one of “divide and conquer,” and also the appeasement of the local populations. Muslims were granted privileged status under colonial rule, in contrast to the discriminatory anti-Muslim policies of the Ethiopian Empire under Haile Selassie and his predecessors. Such favor toward Islam was a basic feature of Italian colonial policy, and it rankled many non-Muslims in the colonies.19  Mussolini, with some honesty and apparent delight, conspicuously took the title “protettore Islam” (defender of Islam), a term hitherto reserved for medieval caliphs who protected Mecca and Medina from invasion. Muslims took advantage of Italian leniency and infrastructure to make the hajj—the pilgrimage to Mecca—and proclaimed their loyalty in gratitude.20  In New Eritrea, Muslims made up less than 30 percent of the population, so Italian favoritism toward them was conspicuous. We can see it, among other places, in Italy's budgetary allocations for the colony. In 1939 and 1940, at least four new mosques were built and the tomb of an important Shiite saint was restored.21  Whatever its specific rationale, this favoritism served to divide the country's populace while creating a fiercely loyal constituency among a formerly marginalized group.

At the same time, the Italians tried their best to cultivate the goodwill of the Christian majority in Eritrea and Tigray, not only through public works but also by restoring and building new churches. They recruited officials of the Orthodox Church, especially from Tigray, to promote their colonial enterprise. They even developed a plan to detach the Ethiopian church from the Alexandrian patriarchate of which it was a part and put it under the papacy, making it an Oriental-rite Catholic denomination.22  Presumably this proposed ecclesiastical bond was intended to rid the colony of suspicious foreign ties (particularly to Egypt, then under British rule) and ensure the loyalty of the often-influential clergy. In 1939 and 1940, at least six Orthodox churches were newly built or restored, including Abreha wa-Atsbeha.23  Although not as maligned as Muslims were during Ethiopian imperial rule, Tigrayan Christians had been regarded with suspicion by the Amhara-dominated court.24  When the Italians invaded the Tigrayan highlands from Eritrea in 1935, they immediately set about distributing food and emancipating slaves, in the process winning over many of their once-oppressed new subjects.25 

When it came to building houses of worship for Italian settler colonists in New Eritrea, the Italian government had grand aspirations. One of the few of these to be realized was located in Massawa, Eritrea's deepwater port and one of Italy's major colonial settlements. From 1938 to 1940, as part of a larger urban development scheme, builders erected a massive and highly expensive cross-domed cathedral for Italian settlers in that city.26  An article published in 1937 in the Milan-based architectural magazine Casabella included renderings and plans of still-grander churches, complete with campaniles, for all the major cities of Italian East Africa, all in a characteristic Fascist minimalist-rationalist style (Figure 3).27  Intended for places such as Gondar and Addis Ababa, these proposed projects illustrate the hopeful visions Italians had for their new colony, before the messy realities of the occupation set in. None of them were built.

Figure 3

Concept art for churches in Italian East Africa, 1937 (Raffaello Giolli, “Progetto di chiesa per l'AO,” Casabella 117 [Sept. 1937], 21).

Figure 3

Concept art for churches in Italian East Africa, 1937 (Raffaello Giolli, “Progetto di chiesa per l'AO,” Casabella 117 [Sept. 1937], 21).

Italian rule in East Africa was always somewhat tenuous. Asmara, Eritrea, and a few other urbanized areas were the colony's focal points, and the only reasonably safe, secure places therein. Italian control over the region's highland center was loose at best.28  Highland urban projects outside Eritrea were mostly quasi-military settlements because of the potential for Ethiopian insurgency. The Italian army maintained 250,000 troops in the colony for the duration of its brief, five-year occupation.29  This contributed to high costs, and these made the practice of settler colonialism unpopular among the lower classes back home in Italy. For this and other reasons, by 1938, Italian authorities in Ethiopia had largely given up their plans for an industrial economy and fallen back on tenant farming and indigenous agriculture.30  Large architectural projects were left unrealized, and settler colonialism never grew beyond a small scale.

In short, the colony as a whole was unviable and functioned mainly as a drain on Italy's larger economy. For a few years, however, Italians imagined that their colony would be permanent, and vestiges of their unrealized goals abound. Hopeful visions of a New Eritrea characterized by a loyal indigenous populace and clerical unity remain in the neo-Renaissance façade of the church of Abreha wa-Atsbeha.

The Church of Abreha wa-Atsbeha and Its Modern Restorations

The town of Abreha wa-Atsbeha is a nondescript highland farming village in East Tigray, 15 kilometers from Wukro, a major urban center. When one approaches the town by car or bus, the white façade of its church comes into view as soon as one passes the numerous euphorbia groves surrounding it (Figure 4). The church of Abreha wa-Atsbeha, once host to a monastic community, is today a parish church. It was carved directly into a red sandstone cliff escarpment, probably in the tenth or eleventh century. Its plan, combining cruciform basilican and centralized features, is found in only two other churches in Ethiopia (Figure 5).31  The bays are defined by engaged crossbeams and chamfered piers with stepped capitals, although the transept and the apse are barrel-vaulted. The ceiling of the crossing space is raised higher than the surrounding bays and is crowned with an engaged monolithic cross supported by cruciform compound piers (Figure 6). Immediately east of the crossing is the choir (qeddest), which is surmounted with a cupola atop a low bema. The church terminates on its east end in a semicircular apse (maqdas) with a synthronon, or curved bench, connected to domed pastophoria (side chambers now containing extra altars but likely intended either as storage spaces or as preparatory rooms for the Eucharistic gifts) on either side that communicate via doorways with both the choir and the lateral aisles. The vaults and ceilings, currently in a bad state of repair, are ornamented with sculpted reliefs dating from the church's earliest days.

Figure 4

Church of Abreha wa-Atsbeha, Tigray, Ethiopia, tenth–eleventh centuries, new façade by Giuseppe Miari, 1939, as seen from the market square (author's photo).

Figure 4

Church of Abreha wa-Atsbeha, Tigray, Ethiopia, tenth–eleventh centuries, new façade by Giuseppe Miari, 1939, as seen from the market square (author's photo).

Figure 5

Church of Abreha wa-Atsbeha, Tigray, Ethiopia, tenth–eleventh centuries, plan (drawing by the author and Binxin Xie, after Jean Gire and Roger Schneider, in Claude Lepage, “Une origine possible des églises monolithiques de l’Éthiopie ancienne,” Comptes rendus des séances de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, no. 141 [1997], 199–212; and Claude Lepage, “Premieres recherches sur les installations liturgiques des anciennes èglises d'Ethiopie,” in Travaux de la recherche cooperative sur programme RCP 230 fasc. 3 [Paris: CNRS, 1972], 77–114).

Figure 5

Church of Abreha wa-Atsbeha, Tigray, Ethiopia, tenth–eleventh centuries, plan (drawing by the author and Binxin Xie, after Jean Gire and Roger Schneider, in Claude Lepage, “Une origine possible des églises monolithiques de l’Éthiopie ancienne,” Comptes rendus des séances de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, no. 141 [1997], 199–212; and Claude Lepage, “Premieres recherches sur les installations liturgiques des anciennes èglises d'Ethiopie,” in Travaux de la recherche cooperative sur programme RCP 230 fasc. 3 [Paris: CNRS, 1972], 77–114).

Figure 6

Church of Abreha wa-Atsbeha, Tigray, Ethiopia, tenth–eleventh centuries, crossing space viewed from south to north (author's photo).

Figure 6

Church of Abreha wa-Atsbeha, Tigray, Ethiopia, tenth–eleventh centuries, crossing space viewed from south to north (author's photo).

The church front as seen today was built in 1939 by Giuseppe Miari, chief engineer of Eritrea, at the cost of 20,000 lira (Figure 7).32  It consists of a whitewashed vestibule, entered through either of two round arches, standing atop a flight of stone steps; the façade is adorned with three bands of stringcourses and three roundels. Flanking the façade base are two quoins made of embossed cement but with the appearance of ashlar masonry. The inner vestibule structure is from a prior restoration and is made of local rubble stabilized with mud infill set into a timber framework. Its interior measures 6 meters by 3.2 meters.

Figure 7

Church of Abreha wa-Atsbeha, Tigray, Ethiopia, tenth–eleventh centuries, new façade by Giuseppe Miari, 1939, viewed from the north, photo date unknown (National Museum Library, Addis Ababa).

Figure 7

Church of Abreha wa-Atsbeha, Tigray, Ethiopia, tenth–eleventh centuries, new façade by Giuseppe Miari, 1939, viewed from the north, photo date unknown (National Museum Library, Addis Ababa).

Miari's was not the first modern restoration of this church. During the reign of Emperor Yohannes IV of Ethiopia (1872–89), the vestibule was rebuilt or restored.33  Covering its walls are paintings made during the time of Yohannes's restoration (discussed below); paintings of the same type and vintage also adorn the westernmost bays of the main vessel. The nineteenth-century restorers also built a new and narrower two-arched entrance leading into the nave, supported by two interior buttresses made of rubble, mud, and heavy timbers (Figure 8). The building's original rock-hewn narthex was likely similar to the configurations found at the ancient rock-hewn churches of Wukro Cherqos and Mika'el Amba, where in each case a square room was built around a centrally placed pier. In the case of Abreha wa-Atsbeha, however, this room collapsed sometime before the early nineteenth century and was thus rebuilt (or reworked) under Yohannes.34  Removing the remains of the middle pillar and expanding the main portal of the church, Yohannes's restoration improved the church's interior lighting and made the space more accessible to Tigrayan pilgrims—an important consideration during feast days, especially that of the saint kings Abreha and Atsbeha, for whom the church is now named. Comparatively speaking, the Italian restoration of 1939 was more modest and superficial than the far more substantial renovations conducted under Yohannes and his predecessors.

Figure 8

Church of Abreha wa-Atsbeha, Tigray, Ethiopia, tenth–eleventh centuries, new entrance and murals ca. 1874–75, vestibule interior viewed from the west (author's photo).

Figure 8

Church of Abreha wa-Atsbeha, Tigray, Ethiopia, tenth–eleventh centuries, new entrance and murals ca. 1874–75, vestibule interior viewed from the west (author's photo).

Mythologizing Tigray

Restored in the past twenty years, the nineteenth-century paintings that adorn the narthex and nave walls are of the so-called Second Gondarine style. Characteristics of this style include a yellow ground, extensive use of blue pigment, subtle shading, and representations of figures wearing exaggeratedly layered garments of recognizable Indian manufacture.35  The complex iconographic program is labeled in Ge‘ez, the ancient language of the region preserved by the clergy for liturgical use (akin to “church Latin” in Europe). Contained in this program are scenes from the lives of the saints Abreha and Atsbeha, the emperor Yohannes and his retinue, and popular local saints.

Yohannes IV was the first and last Tigrayan-ethnic Ethiopian emperor after the so-called Era of Princes, during which time the kingdom lacked any strong central authority.36  His reign was characterized by a centralization of power in Tigray, fervent Christian orthodoxy, and violent crusading against non-Christian peoples—all of which resulted in the overall militarization of the Christian highlands.37 

The twin brothers Abreha and Atsbeha were two earlier kings (during the fourth century, according to local beliefs) who were later canonized and allegedly entombed within the church that now bears their names. While their hagiography dates from the nineteenth century and appears to have been based on false evidence, these saints had a popular following in Tigray prior to the nineteenth century. In fact, they were probably conflations of various historical figures from the Late Antique, Christianized, Tigrayan highland kingdom of Aksum.38 

Along the south wall of the church's vestibule are scenes from the lives of Abreha and Atsbeha. Viewed from east to west, these show the twins’ parents, King Sayfa Ar'ad and Queen Sofya, followed by an image of them suckling at their mother's breasts as two unnamed caretakers peer out from behind her (Figure 9). Images of the infant twins being breast-fed may refer to the archangel Michael's order that they obey the Lord by consuming nothing but breast milk for their first five years.39  The next scene shows the twins being baptized by John the Baptist; Christ's bust ensconced in a mandorla confirms the act with a sign of benediction.40  Meanwhile, Abba Salama (Frumentius, the first bishop of Ethiopia) further blesses the baptism with a handheld cross. Next to Abba Salama, priests shake sistra (percussion instruments akin to maracas, used in the liturgy) while facing one another and singing antiphons. Below these priests are portraits of Ethiopian saints and Old Testament figures: Adam and Eve (from whom Abreha and Atsbeha were directly descended, according to their hagiography); Ewostatewos (Eustathius in Greek), a fourteenth-century monastic leader known for introducing the Christian Sabbath to Ethiopia, with cross and rosary in hand; the one-legged Takla Haymanot, another canonized monastic leader; and Gabra Manfas Qeddus, a desert hermit saint in his hair shirt.41  The presence of these saints alongside Abreha and Atsbeha serves to integrate and legitimate them as new regional saints within a longer lineage and broader canon of popular Ethiopian Christianity.

Figure 9

Church of Abreha wa-Atsbeha, Tigray, Ethiopia, tenth–eleventh centuries, murals ca. 1874–75, vestibule interior south wall (author's photo).

Figure 9

Church of Abreha wa-Atsbeha, Tigray, Ethiopia, tenth–eleventh centuries, murals ca. 1874–75, vestibule interior south wall (author's photo).

The twin kings’ story continues on the west wall of the south aisle, where Old Testament scenes appear alongside one of Abreha and Atsbeha healing the sick through the distribution of holy wine.42  On the north wall of the north nave aisle is an image of Emperor Yohannes IV and his wife, Woleta Selassie, both made to look larger than life by masses of Indian garments and crowns as they travel in a mounted procession with the reigning Alexandrian patriarch (Figure 10). The scene is made sacred by the presence above them of Christ in Epiphany. Placing images of Abreha and Atsbeha, and Christ, alongside those of Yohannes and his wife was a way of linking the modern king to the ancient saints whose church he had restored. The portrayal of these earthly rulers in this sacred setting is an indication of the increasing centralization of power by monarchs in nineteenth-century Ethiopia.43  Further, these representations effectively show Yohannes as a divinely legitimated defender of the faith. Indeed, this is how he saw himself. Steadfastly religious, like the legendary kings Abreha and Atsbeha, he forcibly converted many pagans and Muslims living in his domains.44 

Figure 10

Church of Abreha wa-Atsbeha, Tigray, Ethiopia, tenth–eleventh centuries, murals ca. 1874–75, northwest aisle wall (author's photo).

Figure 10

Church of Abreha wa-Atsbeha, Tigray, Ethiopia, tenth–eleventh centuries, murals ca. 1874–75, northwest aisle wall (author's photo).

The Ethiopian studies scholar Susanne Hummel has written that the hagiography of Abreha and Atsbeha was fabricated sometime during the mid-nineteenth century.45  Accounts left by Annesley and Salt confirm that the medieval church was named for the twin kings by the early nineteenth century, if not earlier, yet Yohannes's restoration of it represented a watershed for the development of their cult. According to Salt, the two kings were buried in the domed eastern chambers of the church.46  This had long been a local legend, yet Yohannes's decision to rededicate the church to them made it a locus for their veneration, and this carried powerful political undertones. The saint kings’ hagiography by this time was related to disputes around the antiquity of Tigrayan monasteries, which northern peoples claimed were much older than those of the southern highlands.47  The saints’ cult, based in Tigray rather than in the country's south, represented a Tigrayan-nationalist impulse in line with Yohannes's other imperial policies. As the first Tigrayan king since antiquity, he used this cult to help consolidate his power in Tigray, rather than in Shoa in the southern highlands. This followed upon the Gadl (vitae) of Abreha and Atsbeha, which included specific reference to the subjugation of Shoa (the burgeoning political center of the southern highlands) by the saint kings.48 

Yohannes was known for his interest in history as well as his frequent use of it to serve his own ends. He was, for instance, crowned at Aksum, the ancient capital of Ethiopia, which by the nineteenth century had otherwise ceased to be a regular place of coronation.49  By updating this ancient church with a new narthex and iconographic program, Yohannes tied himself conspicuously to Tigrayan antiquity, to the church's founders, and to the saint kings allegedly buried within. By modifying this cult site, Yohannes channeled the popular piety directed toward the two saints into the newly renovated church—making it a new pilgrimage center in Tigray—and, ultimately, toward himself.

Historicizing Ethiopia on Italian Terms

In 1939, the Adigrat regional government encountered at Abreha wa-Atsbeha a church that had been restored just fifty years earlier. From outside, the vestibule of Yohannes's campaign was the most visible part of the building, and the murals inside would still have looked relatively fresh. The Italian restoration was in fact a comparatively limited project—a new face for an otherwise functional church. The double-arched, square-piered, roundel-clad entry added by Miari has no Ethiopian precedent.50  Instead, it bears a distinct resemblance to Italian forerunners such as ancient Roman triumphal arches or Renaissance arcades like that at Filippo Brunelleschi's Ospedale degli Innocenti in Florence (Figure 11).

Figure 11

Filippo Brunelleschi, Ospedale degli Innocenti, Florence, 1419 (photo by Michael Waters).

Figure 11

Filippo Brunelleschi, Ospedale degli Innocenti, Florence, 1419 (photo by Michael Waters).

Historic revival styles were prevalent in Fascist Italy, a way of linking the modern regime to the peninsula's glorious past cultures. Roman revival designs, for instance, were used to great effect, as at the Foro Mussolini, a vast sports complex built north of Rome between 1928 and 1938. Revival-style architecture was also employed in Italy's colonies. In Libya, a type of “Saracenic” revival was used for public works, while in Rhodes, Gothic Revival buildings were intended to link the Italian administration to the medieval Knights of Rhodes.51  In Eritrea, elements evoking Ethiopia's Late Antique and medieval cultural heritage were used in imperially funded churches such as that of Degghi Selam in Asmara. There a decorative frieze on the church's west façade and the use of half-timbering throughout evoked esteemed historical precedents such as Dabra Damo and the funerary stela in Aksum.52 

Like the ancient Romans before them, Italian Fascists built triumphal arches to commemorate their imperial victories.53  In antiquity, these were placed along key roadways in the empire's cities, projecting imperial authority and serving as backdrops for ceremonies and processions.54  Mussolini erected a massive Renaissance revival–style triumphal arch in Mogadishu, capital of Italian Somaliland, in 1928 to commemorate a recent visit by the Duke of Savoy (Figure 12).55  In Addis Ababa, capital of Italian East Africa, a single-arch monument erected in 1936 commemorated Italy's conquest of that territory. The double arches used at Abreha wa-Atsbeha may have been intended to evoke the triumphal arch type, signaling Italy's triumph in this region and the displacement of Yohannes and the native sovereignty his works represented.

Figure 12

L'Arco di Trionfo di Mogadiscio, Mogadishu, Somalia, 1928, built to commemorate a visit to the city by Umberto, Duke of Savoy (photo by Omar Degan).

Figure 12

L'Arco di Trionfo di Mogadiscio, Mogadishu, Somalia, 1928, built to commemorate a visit to the city by Umberto, Duke of Savoy (photo by Omar Degan).

Giuseppe Miari, who led the façade restoration at Abreha wa-Atsbeha, is not a well-known figure in Italian history, although he was a prolific architect-engineer in East Africa.56  Miari got his start engineering pontoon bridges on the Isonzo front during World War I.57  Like many in Italy, he saw opportunity in the huge public works projects planned for Italy's African and Mediterranean colonies. He went first to Rhodes and then to Eritrea, where he eventually became the chief engineer of public works.58  His stylistically eclectic projects generally followed the prevailing historically tinged minimalist modernism of the Fascist period. His Casa del Fascio in Asmara (headquarters for the local Fascist party), completed during the late 1930s, is characteristic (Figure 13).59  The building's Fascist identity was proclaimed by the text on its front façade, the large simplified fasces (an ancient Roman symbol of power revived during Mussolini's time) built into its sides, and the portrait of Mussolini sided with fasces at its top. Miari's headquarters building for the Lloyd Triestino shipping company in Assab, Eritrea, by contrast, employed pointed “Saracenic”-style arches at the ground level with large square voids immediately above (Figure 14). Although less ideologically loaded than the Casa del Fascio in Asmara, this building shared its minimalism, even while including historicist elements (the pointed arches).

Figure 13

Giuseppe Miari, Casa del Fascio, Asmara, Eritrea, ca. 1939 (photo by Fernando Abela; courtesy of Roberto Ferrari, Associazione Artistica e Culturale Emilio Rizzi e Giobatta Ferrari, Brescia, Italy).

Figure 13

Giuseppe Miari, Casa del Fascio, Asmara, Eritrea, ca. 1939 (photo by Fernando Abela; courtesy of Roberto Ferrari, Associazione Artistica e Culturale Emilio Rizzi e Giobatta Ferrari, Brescia, Italy).

Figure 14

Giuseppe Miari, Lloyd Triestino shipping company headquarters, Asmara, Eritrea, ca. 1939 (photo by Fernando Abela; courtesy of Roberto Ferrari, Associazione Artistica e Culturale Emilio Rizzi e Giobatta Ferrari, Brescia, Italy).

Figure 14

Giuseppe Miari, Lloyd Triestino shipping company headquarters, Asmara, Eritrea, ca. 1939 (photo by Fernando Abela; courtesy of Roberto Ferrari, Associazione Artistica e Culturale Emilio Rizzi e Giobatta Ferrari, Brescia, Italy).

The more purely historicist approach taken at Abreha wa-Atsbeha was anomalous for Miari, and its use raises questions. Indeed, had the Italians wanted to revise the nineteenth-century façade merely to erase the vestiges of a former Tigrayan leader's campaign, the stark minimalism found at Miari's other Ethiopian and Eritrean projects would have been sufficient, less costly, and less potentially controversial. Miari's Italian Renaissance revival façade thus complicates this building and its message.

As architectural historian D. Medina Lasansky has shown, Fascist authorities in Italy liked to portray the Renaissance as Italianita: part of the nation's unadulterated cultural heritage, a source of national pride, and something to be used for propagandistic aims.60  The Renaissance as we know it means the revival of the past, in terms of both historical citation and reflexive engagement with a historical canon.61  Along these lines, Italian authorities noted Abreha wa-Atsbeha's antiquity and represented it as “una antica Chiesa Copti.”62  By giving the church a Renaissance-style front, one that evokes an ancient Roman triumphal arch, they effectively canonized this church as a product of Italianita. The new façade, foreign to the Tigrayan populace, appeared to the colonizers as a familiar and heavily loaded bit of Italian cultural heritage. The restoration Romanized the church and turned it into a provincial site of a resurgent imperial Italy. Likewise, Fascist authorities in Siena and Florence appropriated various medieval and Renaissance buildings through modifications and new functions and used them to serve their own utilitarian and propagandistic ends. But these buildings stood on the Italian peninsula, and so their “Italianness” was never really in question. Abreha wa-Atsbeha, in contrast, stood on far more remote and shaky—militarily, politically, ideologically—ground.63  Claiming this medieval church in New Eritrea as a part of Italian history and culture, and thereby part of the larger Fascist empire, meant giving it a new Italian face.

Mussolini thought of colonialism much as the ancient Romans had. For him and his followers, the colony was not merely a site for resource extraction or the sale and distribution of goods manufactured in the metropole; it was also a springboard for Italian civilization. Eritrea's roads were viae romanae, and its urban centers were coloniae.64  Tigray was to be a new Eritrean province of the mother country. As noted above, Italian authorities were engaged in talks with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, seeking to put in place a direct union between it and the papacy. Just as Ethiopian Orthodoxy might become an Oriental-rite Catholic denomination, so might a new Italianate façade bring Abreha wa-Atsbeha into the Italian cultural canon and make clear the unbreakable union between colony and colonizer.

Abreha wa-Atsbeha represented in microcosm the uniting of Fascist imperial civilization with Tigrayan antiquity. Like Yohannes's earlier appropriation of the site through his restorations and the inclusion there of his own image, Miari's 1939 campaign projected onto the church a new political and cultural authority through the façade's explicitly Italianate form. By adding the 1939 façade, conspicuously foreign in appearance, the Fascist authorities literally and figuratively covered Yohannes's efforts with an Italian face. In doing so, they subsumed and reappropriated the cultic eminence of the monument, renewing the saint kings’ cultic popularity on Italy's own terms.

Notes

Notes
1.
This article is adapted from a chapter of my dissertation, which is titled “‘Bastions of the Cross’: Medieval Rock-Cut Cruciform Churches of Tigray, Ethiopia.” My fieldwork in Tigray was faciliated through the Tigray Tourism Ministry under the direction of Ato Dawit Kebede. In Rome, the staff at the foreign affairs archive provided me expedited consular processing. Roberto Ferrari of AREF Brescia generously shared with me all of Giuseppe Miari's remaining personal archive. I thank Stephen Murray, Avinoam Shalem, and Matthew Gillman for reading earlier drafts of the present essay, and JSAH editor Keith Eggener, the anonymous peer reviewer, and the rest of the editorial staff for shepherding me through the publication process.
2.
“Opere Publiche: sono in corso i lavori segnalati nelle relazioni dei mesi precidenti. Fra giorni saranno iniziati, a cura della locale Sezione OO.PP i lavori di restauro a due importanti Conventi della circoscrizione e precisamente al convento di Gunde Gunde (distretto di Sease) ed a quello di Enda Abreha Azbeha (distretto di Aiba Ghemad). Per la importanza dei due conventi, l'interessamento dei governo ha suscitato favorevolissima impression.” Giuseppe Barbate, “Relazione administrativo mese di giugno 1939 XVII, Adigrat governate,” in “Relazione amministrativa marzo–giugno 1939 (raccolta relazioni dattiloscritte afferenti tutti i settori di vi te della colonia),” Busta 1010, Inventario dell'Archivio Eritrea (1880–1945), Archivio Storico Diplomatico, Ministero degli Affari Esteri, Farnesina, Rome (hereafter Inventario dell'Archivio Eritrea). Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own.
3.
The Amhara are the Amharic-speaking ethnic group of the central Ethiopian highlands. Tigrayans, like Muslims and slaves, had been marginalized under Ethiopian sovereigns from the central highlands since Menelik II; in 1943, two years after the restoration of the Ethiopian Empire, they rebelled against their government. See Haggai Erlich, “Tigrean Nationalism, British Involvement and Haila-Sellasse's Emerging Absolutism—Northern Ethiopia, 1941–43,” Asian and African Studies 15 (1981), 191–227; Momoka Maki, “The Wayyane in Tigray and the Reconstruction of the Ethiopian Government in the 1940's,” in Proceedings of the 16th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, ed. Svein Ege et al. (Trondheim: NTNU, 2009), 655–63.
4.
On domestic architecture in Tigray, see Diane E. Lyons, “Building Power in Rural Hinterlands: An Ethnoarchaeological Study of Vernacular Architecture in Tigray, Ethiopia,” Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 14, no. 2 (June 2007), 179–207; Naigzy Gebremedhin, “Some Traditional Types of Housing in Ethiopia,” in Shelter in Africa, ed. Paul Oliver (New York: Praeger, 1971), 106–23. The foundational text on the subject is Lidio Cipriani, Abitazioni indigene dell'Africa Orientale italiana (Naples: Edizioni della Mostra d'Oltremare, 1940).
5.
For a comprehensive bibliography on the church until 2007, see Ewa Balicka-Witakowska, “Sera Abreha wa-Atsbeha,” in Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, vol. 4, ed. Siegbert Uhlig et al. (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2010), 628–30. The most in-depth analysis of the church is Claude Lepage, “L’église semi monolithique de Abrehä Asbehä: Monument clef de l'histoire de l'architecture éthiopienne,” in I molti volti dell'arte etiopica: Atti del IV Convegno internazionale di dell'arte etiopica, 24–27 settembre 1996, Trieste, ed. Antonio L. Palmisano et al. (Bologna: Bononia University Press, 2010), 145–63.
6.
“The fantastically incongruent, white-plastered portico, with its corrugated iron roof, was built by the Italians in a wholly successful attempt to please the Ethiopian Priests.” Beatrice Playne, St. George for Ethiopia (London: Constable, 1954), 80.
7.
“Nel tigrai occidentiale la situazione e normal come nel tigrai orientale e nel territorio di macalle, questi territori saldati ormai all'eritrea rappresentano con le loro numerossime popolazioni un sicuro vivaio di futuri ascari per i nostri battaglioni coloniali.” “Relazione politica del mese di settembre 1939 XVII, Governo Dell'Eritrea, Direzione Degli Affari Politici, Sezione Affari Politici Interni,” Busta 1011, Inventario dell'Archivio Eritrea.
8.
For overviews of Fascist Italian architectural aesthetics and its diversity, see Marla Susan Stone, The Patron State: Culture and Politics in Fascist Italy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998); Diane Ghirardo, Building New Communities: New Deal America and Fascist Italy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989); Giorgio Ciucci, Gli architetti e il fascismo: Architettura e città, 1922–1944 (Turin: Einaudi, 1989); Dennis P. Doordan, “The Political Content in Italian Architecture during the Fascist Era,” Art Journal 43, no. 2 (Summer 1983), 121–31. On the Fascist appropriation of the Italian Renaissance, see D. Medina Lasansky, The Renaissance Perfected: Architecture, Spectacle, and Tourism in Fascist Italy (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005).
9.
The Kingdom of Italy was the unified Italian state that existed from 1861 to its dissolution after World War II. During the reign of Mussolini, Italy still remained a monarchy, though actual political power was with the Fascist Party.
10.
For the most recent accounts of the 1896 Battle of Adwa, see Raymond Jonas, The Battle of Adwa: African Victory in the Age of Empire (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2011); John Dunn, “‘For God, Emperor, and Country!’: The Evolution of Ethiopia's Nineteenth-Century Army,” in African Military History, ed. John Lamphear (Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2007), 403–24. For scholarly accounts of the 1935–36 campaigns, see Anthony Mockler, Haile Selassie's War: The Italian–Ethiopian Campaign, 1935–1941 (New York: Random House, 1984); Angelo Del Boca, The Ethiopian War, 1935–1941 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969).
11.
The best overview of this first phase of colonization is Roberto Battaglia, La prima guerra d'Africa (Turin: Einaudi, 1958).
12.
Isabella Rosoni, La colonia eritrea: La prima amministrazione coloniale italiana (1880–1912) (Macerata: Edizioni Università di Macerata, 2006). On the Massawa–Asmara railway project and its implications, see Massimo Romandini, “Le comunicazioni stradali ferroviarie e marittime dell'Eritrea durante il governatorato Martini (1897–1907),” Africa: Rivista Trimestrale di Studi e Documentazione Dell'Istituto Italiano per L'Africa e L'Oriente 38, no. 1 (1983), 94–104. On the founding of Asmara, see Pier Giorgio Massaretti, “Colonial Preliminaries: The Genesis of Italian Imperialism in the Experience of the Governance of Asmara,” in Architecture in Asmara: Colonial Origin and Postcolonial Experiences, ed. Peter Volgger and Stefan Graf (Berlin: DOM, 2017), 60–69.
13.
“L'Eritrea ha un notevole risveglio con l'avvento del fascismo e dei governatori fascisti. [I]l governatore gasparini porta per la prima volta in prima piano il problema locale dello sviluppo dell angricoltura indigena e della vita vita dei nativi e si fa, in seguito assertore di quello colonizzazione agricola a tipo industriale, a capitali nazio nali ed a mano d'opera locale, che aveva nello stesso tempo nella vicina somalia l'apostolo augusto nel duca degli abruzzi. [I]l governatore astuto di lucchesi sviluppa l'organizzazione administrativa del territorio, affronta il problema minerario, inizia la attrezura stradale dell'interno che poi l'impresa recente perfezionera nell'attuale vastissimo programma … ma fino a dopo la conquista dell'ethiopia e alla constituzione dell'imperio, l'eritrea non e che un varrio, piccolo e accidentato paese nel quale tre climi pongono in troppo breve territorio possibilita troppo molteplici e nel quale, data le sua ristrettezza e lo stato di fatto, riesce poi quasi del tutto impossibile risolvere i due contemporanei problemi della popolazione indigena e colonazzione nazionale.” “La Nuova Eritrea,” 5–6, Busta 1009, Inventario dell'Archivio Eritrea.
14.
The memo claimed to present “a brief but total view of the conditions present in Eritrea, under all the different aspects, both as regards the national factor in the colony and as regards the indigenous factor” (una visione breve ma totalitaria delle condizioni presenti dell'Eritrea, sotto tutti i diversi aspeti, sia per quanto riguarda il fattore nazionale in colonia, che per quanto riguarda il fattore indigeno). “La Nuova Eritrea,” 2.
15.
Public works expenditures in New Eritrea for 1936–41 reflect this policy. While most projects undertaken in Italian East Africa were carried out by individual contractors hired by the government, larger projects such as hospitals and power plants were often completed by contractors and engineers officially affiliated with the government. Busta 88–143, “Opere pubbliche (1933–1944),” Ministero dell'Africa Italiana, Archivio Centrale dello Stato, Rome.
16.
On racial policies, see Giulia Barrera, “Mussolini's Colonial Race Laws and State–Settler Relations in Africa Orientale Italiana (1935–41),” Journal of Modern Italian Studies 8, no. 3 (2003), 425–43; Nicola Labanca, “Il razzismo coloniale italiano,” in Nel nome della razza: Il razzismo nella storia d'Italia 1870–1945, ed. Alberto Burgio (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1999), 145–63. On the racial segregation of cities, see Marco Antonsich, “Fascist Urban Iconographies in Ethiopia (1930s–1940s),” GeoJournal 52, no. 4 (2000), 325–38; David Rifkind, “Gondar Architecture and Urbanism for Italy's Fascist Empire,” JSAH 70, no. 4 (Dec. 2011), 492–511; Mia Fuller, “Wherever You Go, There You Are: Fascist Plans for the Colonial City of Addis Ababa and the Colonizing Suburb of EUR’42,” Journal of Contemporary History 31, no. 2 (1996), 397–418; Mia Fuller, “Building Power: Italian Architecture and Urbanism in Libya and Ethiopia,” in Forms of Dominance: On the Architecture and Urbanism of the Colonial Enterprise, ed. Nezar AlSayyad (Aldershot: Avebury, 1992), 211–39.
17.
Public works expenditures for Asmara, for example, included 500,000 lira in 1936–37 for an orfanotrofio indigeno and 360,000 lira in 1937–38 for a new poliambulanza indigeni. “Lavori straordinari Asmara Massaua Assab,” budget, 1936–41, Busta 110, Direzione Generale Affari Civili, Ministero dell'Africa Italiana, Archivio Centrale dello Stato, Rome. In 1940, a new public slaughterhouse costing 5.6 million lira was built in Asmara for settler and indigeni use. L. Morelli, “Progetto per la costruzione del pubblico mattatoio in Asmara,” memo, 23 Apr. 1940, Busta 110, Direzione Generale Affari Civili, Ministero dell'Africa Italiana, Archivio Centrale dello Stato, Rome.
18.
Gianluca Podesta, “Asmara: The Real Capital of the Italian Empire in East Africa,” in Volgger and Graf, Architecture in Asmara, 74–75.
19.
Cesare Marongiu Buonaiuti, Politica e religioni nel colonialismo italiano (1882–1941) (Milan: Giuffrè, 1982), 270–91; Alberto Sbacchi, Ethiopia under Mussolini: Fascism and the Colonial Experience (London: Zed Books, 1985), 161–65.
20.
“Muslim population was rallied in their own family groups, bearing homemade flags with the inscription ‘Il Duce the protector of Islam’” (Popolazione musulmana era radunata numerosissima intorno bandiere proprie comunità grandi cartelli recanti scritta ineggianti DUCE protettore Islam). Benito Mussolini, telegram correspondence between Asmara and Mogadishu, 29 Dec. 1938 to 3 Jan. 1939, Rapporto al Duce 30, Busta 253, Dell'Archivio Segreto del Gabinetto del Ministero dell'Africa Italiana, Archivio Storico Diplomatico, Ministero degli Affari Esteri, Farnesina, Rome. Mussolini was granted the title of protector of Islam in Libya in 1934. See Claudio Mutti, “Mussolini e la spada dell'Islam,” Centro Studi la Runa, 1 Jan. 2000, updated 30 June 2015, http://www.centrostudilaruna.it/mussolinielaspadadellislam.html (accessed 1 Apr. 2019).
21.
In Eritrea, new mosques were built in Uorrabaie (145,000 lira), Om-Hager (100,000 lira), Tessenei (78,000 lira), and Barentu (78,000 lira). Giuseppe Miari, “Elenco delle opere publiche da inaugurasi il 28 ottobre 1939,” Busta 1009, Inventario dell'Archivio Eritrea. In “Passo Negasc” the tomb of the saint Ahmed Negasc was restored at a cost of 35,000 lira. G. Fereeze, Ufficio delle Opere Publiche, Sezione di Adigrat, 23 marzo 1939, Busta 1010, Inventario dell'Archivio Eritrea.
22.
Giovanni Coco, “Alle radici di un'idea: La congregazione per le chiese orientali e il dibattito sulle sue competenze,” Iura Orientalia 10 (2014), 17–58; Arnoldo Bertola, Il regime dei culti nell'Africa Italiana (Bologna: L. Cappelli, 1939), 203–20; Buonaiuti, Politica e religioni, 293–347.
23.
Churches were modified or built anew in Asmara (1,290,000 lira) and Adigrat Gherseber (70,000 lira). Churches were restored at Abreha wa-Atsbeha (20,000 lira), Adi Caieh (210,000 and 81,000 lira), and Barentu (78,000 lira). Giuseppe Miari, “Elenco dei lavori—dipendenti dall'Ufficio delle OO.PP. di Governo delle'Eritrea—in corso nel mese di settembre 1939/XVII,” Busta 1010, Inventario dell'Archivio Eritrea.
24.
John Young, “Ethnicity and Power in Ethiopia,” Review of African Political Economy 23, no. 70 (Dec. 1996), 532–33; Aregawi Berhe, “The Origins of the Tigray People's Liberation Front,” African Affairs 103, no. 413 (Oct. 2004), 571–72; Haggai Erlich, “Tigrean Politics 1930–1935 and the Approaching Italo-Ethiopian war,” in Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, ed. Gideon Goldenberg (Rotterdam: A. A. Balkema, 1986), 101–31.
25.
Fascolo n.100, III 2b, Busta 263, Dell'Archivio Segreto del Gabinetto del Ministero dell'Africa Italiana, Archivio Storico Diplomatico, Ministero degli Affari Esteri, Farnesina, Rome.
26.
“Construzione Cattedrale di Massaua,” correspondence and elevation drawing, 17 July 1939 to 28 Apr. 1940, Busta 110, Direzione Generale Affari Civili, Ministero dell'Africa Italiana, Archivio Centrale dello Stato, Rome.
27.
Raffaello Giolli, “Progetto di chiesa per l'AO,” Casabella 117 (Sept. 1937), 20–25.
28.
Seltene Seyoum, “Review of the Literature on Ethiopian Resistance with Particular Emphasis on Gojjam: 1936–1941,” Journal of Ethiopian Studies 36, no. 2 (Dec. 2003), 37–57; Seltene Seyoum, “Emperor Haile Selassie I and the Ethiopian Resistance: 1936–1941,” in Proceedings of the XIVth International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, vol. 1, ed. Baye Yeman et al. (Addis Ababa: Institute of Ethiopian Studies, 2002), 477–98.
29.
Seyoum, “Review of the Literature,” 37.
30.
On Italian land policy in this period, see Haile M. Larebo, The Building of an Empire: Italian Land Policy and Practice in Ethiopia, 1935–1941 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994).
31.
This plan has variously been called cruciform (Lepage and Mercier), cross-in-square (Buxton), and “Tigray” cross-in-square (Phillipson). I prefer the designation centralized-cruciform. See David Buxton, “The Rock-Hewn and Other Medieval Churches of Tigre Province, Ethiopia,” Archaeologia 103 (1971), 42–48; Claude Lepage and Jacques Mercier, Les églises historiques du Tigray: Art éthiopien (Paris: ERC, 2005), 72–89; David Phillipson, Ancient Churches of Ethiopia (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2009), 92–98.
32.
Miari, “Elenco dei lavori.”
33.
British explorers George Annesley and Henry Salt visited the church in the first decade of the nineteenth century and noted “a thatched and two storied entrance.” George Annesley, Voyages and Travels to India, Ceylon, the Red Sea, Abyssinia, and Egypt, in the Years 1802, 1803, 1804, 1805, and 1806, vol. 3 (London: Bulmer, 1809), 29.
34.
As mentioned in note 33, Annesley and Salt noted a thatched vestibule, although there is evidence that the western bays had been open to the elements for some time, with water damage akin to that seen in Wukro Cherqos and soot from a fire. In 1971, David Buxton wrote that the church likely had two dividing piers, placed laterally, a claim repeated by Ewa Balicka-Witakowska in 2010. Buxton, “Rock-Hewn and Other Medieval Churches,” 42–43; Balicka-Witakowska, “Sera Abreha wa-Atsbeha.” I found as a residual “lump” underneath the center of the now re-restored slate floor the plinth for what I believe was formerly a single dividing pier in the church narthex.
35.
Earnestine Jenkins, A Kingly Craft: Art and Leadership in Ethiopia—A Social History of Art and Visual Culture in Pre-modern Africa (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2008); Tania C. Tribe, “Place, Space and Representation in 18th-Century Gondarine Painting,” in The Indigenous and the Foreign in Christian Ethiopian Art: On Portuguese–Ethiopian Contacts in the 16th–17th centuries, ed. Manuel João Ramos with Isabel Boavida (Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2004), 61–72; Michael Gervers, “The Portuguese Import of Luxury Textiles to Ethiopia in the 16th and 17th Centuries and Their Subsequent Artistic Influence,” in Ramos, The Indigenous and the Foreign, 121–34.
36.
For an introduction to the Era of Princes, see Shiferaw Bekele, “Reflections on the Power Elite of the Wärä Seh Mäsfenate (1786–1853),” Annales d'Ethiopie 15 (1990), 157–79. Lepage and Mercier attribute the painted program to a regional lord named Dame Djember. Lepage and Mercier, Les églises historiques du Tigray, 233.
37.
The best biography of Yohannes IV to date is Zewde Gabre-Selassie, Yohannes IV of Ethiopia: A Political Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975).
38.
Atsbeha is likely a combination of Ezana, the first Christian Aksumite emperor, and Kaleb, the sixth-century proxy for Byzantium. The name Abreha refers to the sixth-century Aksumite governor of Arabia. Two Aksumite brother kings were also mentioned in a fourth-century letter to Constantine. See Susanne Hummel, “The Disputed Life of the Saintly Ethiopian Kings ʾAbrǝhā and ʾAṣbǝḥa,” Scrinium 12, no. 1 (2016), 35–72; Habtamu Tegegne, “Dispute over Precedence and Protocol: Hagiography and Forgery in 19th-Century Ethiopia,” Afriques 7 (2016), http://afriques.revues.org/1909 (accessed 2 Apr. 2019).
39.
Paolo Marassini, “Il Gadla Abreha WaAsbeha: Indicazioni preliminari,” Warszawskie Studia Teologiczne 12, no. 2 (1999), 162; Gadla Abreha wa-Atsbeha, 18vr.
40.
Marassini, “Il Gadla Abreha WaAsbeha,” 163; Gadla Abreha wa-Atsbeha, 26vr.
41.
Marassini, “Il Gadla Abreha WaAsbeha,” 160; Gadla Abreha wa-Atsbeha, 2vr. For biographies of these saints, see Gérard Colin, Le Synaxaire éthiopien, 5 vols. (Turnhout: Brepols, 1986–98). For an English translation, see E. A. Wallis Budge, The Book of the Saints of the Ethiopian Church: A Translation of the Ethiopic Synaxarium, 5 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1928).
42.
Marassini, “Il Gadla Abreha WaAsbeha,” 164; Gadla Abreha wa-Atsbeha, 29v.
43.
Elisabeth Biasio, “Art, Culture and Society: Considerations on Ethiopian Church Painting Focussing on the 19th Century,” in Proceedings of the Eleventh International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, vol. 2, ed. Bahru Zewde et al. (Addis Ababa: Institute of Ethiopian Studies, 1994), 541–61.
44.
R. A. Caulk, “Religion and the State in Nineteenth Century Ethiopia,” Journal of Ethiopian Studies 10, no. 1 (Jan. 1972), 23–41; Zewde Gabre-Selassie, “Some Aspects of the Religious Policies of Emperors Zar'a Yae'qob (1434–1468) and Yohannes IV (1872–1889) and the Development of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church,” in Meriotica 22, ed. Stefan Wenig (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2005), 215–43; Getie Gelaye, “Amharic Praise Poems Composed in Honor of Emperor Yohannes IV (1872–1889),” International Journal of Ethiopian Studies 6, nos. 1–2 (2012), 115–33.
45.
Hummel, “Disputed Life.” See also Tegegne, “Dispute over Precedence and Protocol.”
46.
Annesley, Voyages and Travels to India, 27–29.
47.
Hummel, “Disputed Life,” 70–71.
48.
Marassini, “Il Gadla Abreha WaAsbeha,” 162, 163, 168, 173; Gadla Abreha wa-Atsbeha, 20v, 21r, 27v, 28r, 52r, 55r, 67r, 70v.
49.
Donald Crummey, “Imperial Legitimacy and the Creation of Neo-Solomonic Ideology in 19th-Century Ethiopia,” Cahiers d’études africaines 28, no. 109 (1988), 24–33. For an overview of this practice, see Stuart Munro-Hay, “The ‘Coronation’ of the Ethiopian Emperors at Axum,” in Studia Aethiopica: In Honor of Siegbert Uhlig on the Occasion of His 65th Birthday, ed. Verena Böll et al. (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2004), 177–203.
50.
The porch here is similar to those found at Beta Maryam (thirteenth century), a rock-hewn church in the Lalibela complex in the central highlands of Ethiopia. The church complex at Lalibela was thoroughly surveyed by Italian archaeologist Bianchi Barrivera. It is possible that Giuseppe Miari, restorer of Abreha wa-Atsbeha, saw this church, or read about it, and utilized it as a model. See Alessandro Augusto Monti della Corte, Lalibelà, le chiese ipogee e monolitiche e gli altri monumenti medievali del Lasta (Rome: Società Italiana Arti Grafiche, 1940).
51.
On Libya, see Krystyna Von Henneberg, “Imperial Uncertainties: Architectural Syncretism and Improvisation in Fascist Colonial Libya,” Journal of Contemporary History 31, no. 2 (1996), 373–95; Brian L. McLaren, Architecture and Tourism in Italian Colonial Libya: An Ambivalent Modernism (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2006). On Rhodes, see Eliana Perotti, “Il patrimonio medieval: Strategie d'appropriazione,” in Architettura coloniale italiana nel Dodecaneso, 1912–1943, ed. Simona Martinoli and Eliana Perotti (Turin: Edizioni Fondazione Giovanni Agnelli, 1999), 77–89.
52.
Sean Anderson, Modern Architecture and Its Representation in Colonial Eritrea: An In-visible Colony, 1890–1941 (Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2015), 111–17.
53.
Joshua Arthurs, Excavating Modernity: The Roman Past in Fascist Italy (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2012), 134.
54.
On the triumphal arch in its ceremonial context, see Ernst Künzl, Der römische Triumph: Siegesfeiern im antiken Rom (Munich: C. H. Beck, 1988); Elizabeth Marlowe, “Framing the Sun: The Arch of Constantine and the Roman Cityscape,” Art Bulletin 88, no. 2 (2006), 223–42. On the form of the triumphal arch, see Mark Wilson Jones, “Genesis and Mimesis: The Design of the Arch of Constantine in Rome,” JSAH 59, no. 1 (Mar. 2000), 50–77.
55.
Alberto Alpozzi, Viaggio nella Somalia italiana: La visita del Principe Umberto di Savoia nelle fotografie ritrovate di Carlo Pedrini (Massa: Eclettica Edizioni, 2016).
56.
Miari's archive has largely disappeared, aside from some photographs now held by the Associazione Artistica e Culturale Emilio Rizzi e Giobatta Ferrari (AREF). This organization is responsible for the only publication on his work: Roberto Ferrari, Album coloniale: L'archivio fotografico di Giuseppe Miari e Fernando Abela (Brescia: AREF, 2004).
57.
Roberto Ferrari, “Note biografiche su Giuseppe Miari” (unpublished manuscript, 2004–5). I thank Roberto Ferrari of AREF Brescia for sharing this with me.
58.
Ferrari, “Note biografiche.”
59.
This building is now the office of the National Union of Eritrean Women. Anderson, Modern Architecture, 118, plate 2.36.
60.
Lasansky, Renaissance Perfected, esp. 11–14.
61.
See, for example, Arnoldo Momigliano, “Ancient History and the Antiquarian,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 13 (1950), 285–315; Peter Burke, The Renaissance Sense of the Past (New York: Hodder & Stoughton Educational, 1969).
62.
Giuseppe Barbate, “Relazione mensile sui lavori eseguiti nel mese di Marzo 1939,” budget, Busta 1010, Inventario dell'Archivio Eritrea.
63.
Lasansky, Renaissance Perfected, esp. 107–43, 183–215.
64.
Arthurs, Excavating Modernity, 126–34; Massimiliano Munzi, L'epica del ritorno: Archeologia e politica nella Tripolitania italiana (Rome: L'Erma di Bretschneider, 2001).