Bahra Maryam, head of horseman believed to be St.Theodorus
Phase 2 of the Wall Painting Restoration Project
The churches of Tigray, in Northern Ethiopia, preserve a unique wall painting heritage, dating from the medieval period. In 2014 the Ethiopian Heritage Fund commenced a 3 stage programme of conservation of carefully selected churches in this region.
In October 2015 wall painting restorers Lisa Shekede and Stephen Rickerby returned to Tigray on a 5 week phase two of the restoration project. The project started in September 2013 with the assessment and scientific analyses of eight churches. Having reviewed and analysed the data, in 2014, four churches were selected on which Stephen and Lisa would focus their conservation efforts. The long-term aims of the programme were.
- Protective and preventive measures to save paintings from damage and loss.
- Environmental monitoring to establish the temperature and humidity variables and to assess their contribution to the deterioration of the paintings
- Detailed analysis of plasters for the formulation of compatible repair materials
- Extensive remedial treatment stabilization, uncovering and cleaning
Qorqor, Abuna Daniel: A Rock-cut meditational complex, with paintings dateable to the 15th century, that were probably carried out by hermit-monks.
With a painted antechamber of roughly only 5 square metres, Daniel Qorqor, boasts spectacular views over the valley but is also the most challenging places to work. The paintings are generally in reasonable condition but there is some localized separation of plaster from the walls of the ‘cave’. To reach the entrance, there is a steep climb followed by a walk along a narrow ledge with a horrifying drop. This didn't stop the team in 2014 from carrying up scaffolding and installing environmental monitoring equipment and taking micro core samples. Data loggers were installed to measure relative humidity and ambient temperature of the interior and exterior. Unfortunately the internal logger was stolen and new one had the be installed. When returning for phase 3 of the project we are hoping to extract the data essential to decide upon the right conservation path
On the way to Daniel Qorqor
While carrying out remedial treatments in 2014 Lisa and Stehen discovered that parts of the church covered with lime wash had extensive areas of concealed painting. The uncovering of the exciting discovery of the concealed dedication of the church in 2014 revealed the full extent of the unique dedicatory inscription on the North West column. Although some small parts of the text are lost, almost the entire inscription is now legible and can be translated as: 'Knowing that earthly life is transitory, this, the Temple of Peter, has been raised up by Quastos, Guardian of Emba Seneyit, in hope of the mercy of Chirst in Heaven. You, Priests and Deacons, do not forget him in your prayers and sacraments, Always remember his name...'
As well as cleaning and stabilising existing paintings, the team uncovered the head of a horseman believed to be that of St. Theodorus. Other painting fragments from the 17th century were also revealed. Lime wash was judicially applied to improve the appearance of the church leaving original plaster and fragments of paintings uncovered.
A years worth of data recorded on the loggers was downloaded. This will have to be analysed to decided on the best method of treatment for the next phase. An embedded curtain rail that was damaging some of the paintings was re-installed in a more suitable place were it could do no damage. The old curtains were replaced with new ones much to the delight of the local people who worked along side our team during the installation. The plan is to remove other curtains and, where a liturgical division is required, to replace them with low-level wooden barriers that will help in the conservation of the dedication and paintings.
Stephen Rickerby working on Aro Ero
Ara Ero: Abuna Tekla Haymanot
The old church at Ara Ero has magnificent wall-paintings but the roof had been allowed to rot when the village moved their services to the new church next door. In 2014 samples of original earthen plaster and local source materials were taken to determine compatible repair materials. Lisa and Stephen with the help of some local people, also installed a temporary roof over the exposed wall paintings. Environmental exposure and damage have led to separation and loss of plaster leaving the paintings in a perilous condition. No conservation could be undertaken until the appropriate repair materials had been determined. Having completed that analysis from the samples selected in 2014, Lisa and Stephen commenced the stabilisation programme. Most of the work was concentrated on the upper edge of the east wall where the painting is most at risk. Concerns remain over the long-term flaking/powdering . These areas are being monitored to asses the rate of loss. Plans for a new permanent roof and a review of the efficacy of the 2105 treatment will be carried out in 2016.
Seminar in Mekelle and Addis Ababa
Besides working hard on the churched of Tigray, Lisa and Stephen shared their knowledge and experience with the eager students of the Institute of Paleo-environment and Heritage Conservation at the University of Mekelle. The Seminar was well attended and over a 100 students listened to Lisa and Stephen who explained the work of the Wall Paintings Conservation Programme and gave an Introduction to Conservation Principles. The same topics were discussed within a smaller setting at the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage in Addis Ababa.
We are delighted to announce a new project for 2016: a large scale conservation project at one of the most important churches in Ethiopia, Yemrehanna Kristos. We will be collaborating with the World Monuments Fund funded by a grant from the U.S. Ambassador’s Fund.
Yemrehanna Kristos can be found at the end of a valley about a 3 hour drive from Lalibela. This church is situated on a ledge and is protected by a massive rock overhang. Built in the 12th century by the Zagwe king Yemrehanna Kristos, the church predates the Lalibela complex by some 100 years and is one of Ethiopia’s finest examples of late-Axumite architecture. Unlike the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, Yemrehanna Kristos is constructed of timber, stone and lime plaster. The church is a place of pilgrimage and it holds an important place in the religious history of the country.
On the interior walls of the church there are magnificent wall paintings, the oldest in Ethiopia, dating to the late 11th and early 12th century. These unique images are rare in both style and age and their association with royal patronage is reflected in their sophisticated iconography and high artistic quality.
The World Monuments Fund and the Ethiopian Heritage Fund have agreed to work together on the restoration and conservation of both the building and its paintings. In an ambitious 18 month program of assessment and monitoring of both the exterior and interior of the and a painting conservation program, the WMF and the EHF hope to safeguard the future of this extraordinary example of early Ethiopian history.
In April 2016 EHF will undertake a pre-treatment investigation phase which will form the basis of a conservation report. Later in the year there will be a return visit to undertake the recommendations of the report.
We are very pleased to announce that we have updated our website. Please take go to www.ethiopianheritagefund.org and take a look.