ISTITUTO PER L’ORIENTE “C.A. NALLINO”
UNIVERSITÀ DI NAPOLI L’ORIENTALE
DI STUDI ETIOPICI
Archaeological Investigation in Aḥfärom Wäräda, Tigray 2
Archaeological Investigation in Aḥfärom Wäräda, Tigray 3
ISTITUTO PER L’ORIENTE “C.A. NALLINO”
UNIVERSITÀ DI NAPOLI L’ORIENTALE
DI STUDI ETIOPICI
Archaeological Investigation in Aḥfärom Wäräda, Tigray 4
RASSEGNA DI STUDI ETIOPICI – RIVISTA FONDATA DA CARLO CONTI ROSSINI
Consiglio Scientifico – Scientific Committee:
GIORGIO BANTI, ALESSANDRO BAUSI, ANTONELLA BRITA, GILDA FERRANDINO, ALESSANDRO
GORI, GIANFRANCESCO LUSINI, ANDREA MANZO, LORENZA MAZZEI, MARTIN ORWIN, SILVANA
PALMA, GRAZIANO SAVÀ, LUISA SERNICOLA, MAURO TOSCO, ALESSANDRO TRIULZI, MASSIMO
VILLA, YAQOB BEYENE, CHIARA ZAZZARO
Comitato Scientifico Internazionale – Advisory Board:
JON ABBINK, ABDIRACHID MOHAMED ISMAIL, ALEMSEGED BELDADOS ALEHO, BAHRU ZEWDE,
EWA BALICKA-WITAKOWSKA, BAYE YIMAM, ALBERTO CAMPLANI, ELOI FICQUET, MICHAEL
GERVERS, GETATCHEW HAILE, JONATHAN MIRAN, MAARTEN MOUS, CHRISTIAN ROBIN,
CLAUDE RILLY, SALEH MAHMUD IDRIS, SHIFERAW BEKELE, TEMESGEN BURKA BORTIE, TESFAY
TEWOLDE, SIEGBERT UHLIG
Comitato Editoriale – Editorial Board:
GILDA FERRANDINO, JACOPO GNISCI, ANDREA MANZO (Vicedirettore – Deputy Director),
MARTIN ORWIN, GRAZIANO SAVÀ, LUISA SERNICOLA, MASSIMO VILLA
The present issue is the 7th volume of the “3a Serie” (the 4th volume of the “Nuova Serie” was published
in 2012) and the 54th volume since the establishment of the journal.
– The Università di Napoli L’Orientale participates in the publication of the «Rassegna di Studi Etiopici»
by entrusting its care to its Dipartimento Asia, Africa e Mediterraneo.
– All correspondence should be addressed to:
Redazione Rassegna di Studi Etiopici
Dipartimento Asia, Africa e Mediterraneo
Università di Napoli L’Orientale
Piazza S. Domenico Maggiore 12 – 80134 Napoli, Italy
Segretario di redazione – Editorial Secretary: MASSIMO VILLA
Direttore Responsabile – Director: GIANFRANCESCO LUSINI
Iscrizione presso il Tribunale civile di Roma, Sezione Stampa, al numero 184/2017 del 14/12/2017
UniorPress, Via Nuova Marina 59 – 80133 Napoli
Archaeological Investigation in Aḥfärom Wäräda, Tigray 5
Questo settimo volume della “3a Serie” della Rassegna di Studi Etiopici
(cinquantaquattresimo dalla fondazione della rivista) ospita gli atti della
conferenza Ethiopian art and architecture: recent studies with focus on
Jewish, Christian and Muslim material culture (Universidad Complutense de
Madrid, 9–11 novembre 2021), organizzata da Ewa Balicka-Witakowska,
Víctor M. Fernández, Mario Lozano Alonso e Dorothea McEwan. L’uscita di
una nuova raccolta di saggi, dedicati ad alcune fasi cruciali della storia artistica
dell’Eritrea e dell’Etiopia, non potrà non essere salutata con interesse dalla
comunità scientifica, considerato che negli ultimi decenni si è consolidata la
consapevolezza dell’importanza di questi studi, si sono allargati gli obiettivi
della ricerca e moltiplicate le occasioni di confronto sui risultati delle indagini
in corso. La redazione della Rassegna, dunque, si congratula con i curatori del
volume e li ringrazia per aver proposto la loro opera alla rivista fondata da
Carlo Conti Rossini. Proprio qui, nel lontano 1942, l’etiopista italiano
licenziava la breve e densa nota “Appunti e comenti: Miniature armene nel
ms. et. n. 50 della Biblioteca Vaticana”, che sotto molti aspetti costituisce una
pietra miliare degli studi, piena di preziosi spunti di riflessione e materiali di
confronto, messi a valore da altri e più estesi lavori nella seconda metà del
Se i dieci contributi qui raccolti si riferiscono solo alla citata conferenza del
2021, tuttavia non si è voluto rinunciare al Bollettino delle ricerche in atto nei
vari centri accademici internazionali, da molti anni uno strumento di servizio
per la comunità dei lettori di questa rivista. E qui piace osservare come
l’esaurirsi degli effetti della pandemia stia restituendo l’opportunità sia per la
ripartenza di programmi scientifici, sia per creazione di nuove occasioni di
incontro e condivisione dei risultati di attività in corso, delle quali il nostro
Bollettino si sforza di dare conto puntualmente. Né si può tacere del fatto che i
timidi segnali di pace inviati attraverso l’accordo del 2 novembre 2022, con i
successivi passaggi attuativi, sono una premessa indispensabile per la graduale
ripresa di tante iniziative accademiche, a lungo forzatamente interrotte, se solo
ragionevolezza e rispetto reciproco torneranno a guidare le decisioni dei
governi nazionali e locali.
Archaeological Investigation in Aḥfärom Wäräda, Tigray 6
In chiusura del volume, nei ricordi dedicati ad Angelo Del Boca e Marcello
Piperno, da poco scomparsi, il lettore troverà un invito a meditare sul valore
dell’eredità scientifica di due intellettuali che molto ci mancheranno.
Entrambi, infatti, con la determinazione propria dei ‘militanti’ hanno fornito
alle generazioni successive indicazioni fondamentali circa la direzione e il
metodo della ricerca in due ambiti separati da una distanza cronologica di
migliaia di anni, ma resi molto vicini dalla necessità di puntare sempre alla
verità, abbattendo i muri della mistificazione e del pregiudizio.
La redazione dedica questo volume alla memoria di Issa Adem Hamid,
studioso eritreo, candidato al titolo di Dottore di ricerca presso il Dipartimento
Asia, Africa e Mediterraneo (DAAM), spentosi prematuramente poche
settimane prima di poter discutere la propria tesi. Coloro che hanno letto le sue
pubblicazioni sulla letteratura orale in lingua Nara, e ancor più quanti hanno
avuto l’occasione di conoscerlo di persona, rimpiangeranno molto le sue doti
intellettuali e umane.
Archaeological Investigation in Aḥfärom Wäräda, Tigray 7
To the readers
This volume of the Rassegna di Studi Etiopici (the seventh of the “3a
Serie” and the fifty-fourth since the establishment of the journal) hosts the
proceedings of the conference Ethiopian art and architecture: recent studies
with focus on Jewish, Christian and Muslim material culture (Universidad
Complutense de Madrid, 9–11 November 2021), organized by Ewa Balicka-
Witakowska, Víctor M. Fernández, Mario Lozano Alonso and Dorothea
McEwan. This new collection of essays, dedicated to crucial phases in the art
history of Eritrea and Ethiopia, will be certainly welcomed with interest by the
scientific community. In the last decades these studies grew in relevance, the
research targets widened and the opportunities for discussion about the
ongoing investigations multiplied. Therefore, the board of the Rassegna
congratulates the Editors of the volume and thanks them and the authors for
publishing their work in this journal established by Carlo Conti Rossini. It was
here that the Italian scholar published a short contribution entitled “Appunti e
comenti: Miniature armene nel ms. et. n. 50 della Biblioteca Vaticana” – a
landmark in the field of Ethiopian art history, with particular regard to its
analytical and comparative perspectives, which foreshadow research themes
explored in the second half of the twentieth century.
In addition to the ten papers from the 2021 conference, this issue includes a
Bulletin of current research activities in the field carried out by different
research clusters, a feature of this journal that has continued to receive strong
interest from the research community in recent years. Indeed, we are delighted
to observe that the end of the effects of the pandemic has been marked by the
relaunch of scientific programmes and the creation of new venues for sharing
the outcomes of current activities, which our Bulletin strives to document in a
timely manner. We cannot ignore the fact that the tentative peace agreement
signed in Pretoria (2 November 2022), along with its implementation, is an
essential step towards the gradual recovery of many academic initiatives in
Ethiopia, which for a long time have been forcibly stopped, provided that
rationality and mutual respect will enlighten again the decisions of local and
In the final obituaries dedicated to the recently passed away Angelo Del
Boca and Marcello Piperno, the reader will find an invitation to ponder the
Archaeological Investigation in Aḥfärom Wäräda, Tigray 8
value of the scientific legacy of two intellectuals who will be sorely missed.
Both of them, with a determination of ‘militants’, offered to the next
generations key directions and methods of investigations in two areas divided
by a chronological distance of thousands of years, but made very close by the
constant quest for the truth, tearing down walls of mystification and prejudice.
The board of the Rassegna dedicates this volume to the memory of Issa
Adem Hamid, Eritrean scholar, PhD candidate at the Dipartimento Asia,
Africa e Mediterraneo (DAAM), who prematurely passed away a few weeks
before defending his thesis. Those who read his publications about the oral
literature in Nara language, and even more those who had the opportunity to
meet him, will miss his intellectual and human qualities.
Archaeological Investigation in Aḥfärom Wäräda, Tigray 9
ETHIOPIAN ART AND ARCHITECTURE:
RECENT STUDIES WITH A FOCUS ON JEWISH, CHRISTIAN AND
MUSLIM MATERIAL CULTURE
Foreword ...................................................................................................... 11
BAR KRIBUS, Architectural and Religious Symbolism in the Betä
Ǝsraʾel (Ethiopian Jewish) Prayer House ............................................... 15
DOROTHEA MCEWAN, Searching for Vorlage. The Ethiopian
illuminated manuscript of the Book of Revelation of John, painted
1700–1730. London, British Library, Or 533 .......................................... 37
EWA BALICKA-WITAKOWSKA, A Painted Panel of the Crucifixion
Preserved in the Church of the Four Living Creatures (Arbaʿǝtu
Ǝnsǝsa) at Agwäza (Tǝgray) .................................................................... 81
JACEK TOMASZEWSKI, A Painted Panel of the Crucifixion Preserved in
the Agwäza Church (Tǝgray): Technical Analysis and Preservation
Strategies ................................................................................................ 99
VÍCTOR M. FERNÁNDEZ, The Pre-Gondarine Jesuit Architecture in
Ethiopia: Western, Eastern and Local Models ...................................... 119
ILARIA ZORZAN, The Life and Miracles of Abba Gärima in Ethiopian
Visual Arts ............................................................................................. 147
KRISTEN WINDMULLER-LUNA, Reassessing the Many Failures – and
Few Successes – of Catholic Imagery in Ethiopia During the Jesuit
Mission Era (1557–1632) ..................................................................... 167
LEONARDO COHEN, MAURICIO LAPCHIK MINSKI, The Use of Biblical
Literary Descriptions in Father Antonio Fernandes’ Refutation of
the Ethiopian Christian Doctrine. A Case Study: The Structure of the
Local Church ........................................................................................ 201
Archaeological Investigation in Aḥfärom Wäräda, Tigray 10
MARIO LOZANO ALONSO, The Fəlsäta Lämaryam Iconography: A
Jesuit Contribution to Ethiopian Art? A Reflection on Art and
Theology ................................................................................................ 223
JORGE DE TORRES RODRÍGUEZ, CAROLINA CÓRNAX GÓMEZ, The
Meeting Ground: Mosques in the Horn of Africa During the
Medieval Period..................................................................................... 249
Newly discovered Yalda-Tuome Valley Paleo-Pleistocene Site, Konso
special Zone Ethiopia (ADDIS ABABA UNIVERSITY) ............................ 289
BULLETIN FOR 2022 .............................................................................. 301
Angelo Del Boca, 1925–2021 (ALESSANDRO TRIULZI) ............................. 325
Marcello Piperno, 1945–2022 (CARMINE COLLINA) ................................. 328
Issa Adem Hamid, 1974–2023 (GIORGIO BANTI) ....................................... 334
Archaeological Investigation in Aḥfärom Wäräda, Tigray 11
Ethiopian art and architecture are areas of research that play an important
role in framing Ethiopian history. The period from the 16th to the 18th
centuries is marked by the input of several intellectual and artistic traditions
among the main religious groupings in the country: Jewish, Muslim, and
The region of Dämbəya, a plain bordering upon the northern shore of Lake
Țana, evolved in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries into the thriving centre of
the Ethiopian monarchy after the defeat of Imām Aḥmad b. Ibrahīm in the
1527–1543 war. As such it attracted foreigners, among them the newly
established missionary order of the Jesuits, which established a mission in the
country between 1557 and 1632. Their books and ideas contributed to the
flourishing of art and architecture encompassing not only that of the Christian
population but also the Betä Israʾel and Muslim inhabitants. The new royal
city of Gondär, founded in 1636 after the expulsion of the Jesuits, became the
main artistic centre of the Christian kingdom. The focus on this period brings
new analyses of the new style – the court or Gondär style – particularly in
painting, and the focus on earlier and later art and architecture topics throws
light on different cultural expressions, links, and developments in Ethiopia and
the Horn of Arica.
The political situation in Ethiopia at present makes field trips nearly
impossible, so any findings on the most recent and/or ongoing research is
highly appreciated by the academic community. This volume is therefore
devoted to publishing the majority of lectures from the international
conference hosted by Complutense University of Madrid (Universidad
Complutense de Madrid) from 9 to 11 November 2021. The volume was
sponsored by the Statehorn Project, based at the Institute of Heritage Sciences
of the Spanish National Research Council (Incipit-CSIC).
The conference was organized by the editors Ewa Balicka-Witakowska,
Associate Professor in Art History in the Department of Linguistics and
Philology at Uppsala University, Víctor M. Fernández, Hon. Professor of
Archaeology in the Geography and History Faculty at Universidad
Complutense de Madrid, Mario Lozano Alonso [Secretary of the Conference],
PhD Candidate at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, and Dorothea
Archaeological Investigation in Aḥfärom Wäräda, Tigray 12
McEwan, AFEAS. Hon. Fellow of The University of London, The Warburg
Institute, the School of Advanced Study, and the University of London.1 Mario
Lozano Alonso, Dorothea McEwan, and Jorge de Torres took up the task of
producing the Proceedings published in this edition of Rassegna di Studi
1 The speakers were: Dorothea McEwan (School of Advanced Study, The Warburg
Institute, University of London), ‘Of Words and Pictures. The long reach of art and
Kristen Windmuller-Luna (Curator of African Arts, Cleveland Museum of Art,
USA), ‘Echoes and Evolutions: Ethiopian Artistic Agency and Global Imagery in
the Early Modern’.
Gianfrancesco Lusini (Unior, Naples), ‘Italian artists in Ethiopia between the 15th
and 17th centuries: how many were they?’.
Ewa Balicka-Witakowska (Institute of Linguistics and Philology, Department of
Byzantine Studies, Uppsala University), ‘A Painted Panel of the Crucifixion
Preserved in the Church at Agwäza (Tǝgray): Iconography and Stylistic Features’.
Jacek Tomaszewski (Polish Institute of World Art Studies), ‘A Painted Panel of the
Crucifixion Preserved in the Agwäza Church (Tǝgray): Technical Analysis and
Dorothea McEwan (School of Advanced Study, The Warburg Institute, University
of London), ‘Searching for Vorlage. The Ethiopian illuminated manuscript book of
The Revelation of John, painted 1700–1730. London: British Library, Or 533’.
Bar Kribus (Ruhr University Bochum), ‘Tracing the Early Development of Betä
Ǝsraʾel (Ethiopian Jewish) Prayer House Architecture’.
Jorge de Torres (Incipit-CSIC, Spain), ‘The meeting ground: Mosques in Somaliland
during the Medieval period’.
Héloïse Mércier (Université Paris 1, Panthéon-Sorbonne), ‘The foundation of a
polity and the writing of history in Awsa (Eastern Ethiopia, late 16th–17th c.): A
Study of the “Awsa Chronicles”’.
Víctor M. Fernández (Universidad Complutense de Madrid), ‘The pre-Gondarine
Jesuit architecture in Ethiopia: Western, Eastern and Local influences’.
Leonardo Cohen (Ben Gurion University of the Negev) and Mauricio Lapchik (The
Hebrew University of Jerusalem), ‘Magseph Assetat vs. Mazgaba Haymanot: The
use of Biblical Literary Descriptions in Father Antonio Fernandes’ Refutation of
Ethiopian Christian Doctrine.’
Mario Lozano (Universidad Complutense de Madrid), ‘The Fəlsäta lämaryam
iconography: a Jesuit contribution to Ethiopian Art? A reflection on Art and
Ilaria Zorzan (University of Padova), ‘The Life and Miracles of Abba Gärima in
Ethiopian Visual Art’.
Archaeological Investigation in Aḥfärom Wäräda, Tigray 13
Etiopici. The volume editors thank the series editor Professor Gianfrancesco
Lusini for his interest and guidance and all the contributors involved in this
Dorothea McEwan Jorge de Torres Mario Lozano Alonso
London Madrid Madrid
RASSEGNA DI STUDI ETIOPICI - 3A SERIE – VOL. 7, 2023
THE FƎLSÄTA LÄMARYAM ICONOGRAPHY: A JESUIT
CONTRIBUTION TO ETHIOPIAN ART?
A REFLECTION ON ART AND THEOLOGY *
MARIO LOZANO ALONSO
Universidad Complutense de Madrid
It is well known that some iconographic models have been introduced from Europe
in Ethiopia since the Middle Ages, and several facts point in the direction that the
Fəlsäta lämaryam iconography was developed from imported Immaculate Conception
images after the Jesuit presence in the country (1557–1632). The iconography of the
Immaculate Conception was adopted but also adapted by the Ethiopian Orthodox
Täwaḥədo Church from the middle 17th century onwards. In this case, a dogmatic issue
was present: the idea of the Immaculate Conception of Virgin Mary is not among the
teachings of the local Orthodox Church as it is in the Catholic Church. Due to this, the
interpretation of the iconography had to be changed to accommodate the Ethiopian Or-
Fəlsäta lämaryam – Jesuits – Gondarine art – Immaculate conception –
Painting – Ethiopian Orthodox
The Fəlsäta lämaryam is one of the iconographic representations of Vir-
gin Mary in Ethiopian Art. It appeared in the 17th century, when it began to
be produced from European models, but with some clear local features.
Since then, it has become a quite popular Marian iconography, being present
in murals painted in churches and in manuscripts of the Gondarine style
224 MARIO LOZANO ALONSO
Not a new topic, as it has been studied before (Heldman 2005; Chojnacki
1983: 291–332), but in this article I intend to explain the Spanish origin of
the iconography of the Fəlsäta lämaryam and how it could have been im-
ported to Ethiopia during the Second Jesuit Mission (1603–1632) via India.
Also, I will mention that the popularization of this iconography among Or-
thodox and Catholic communities in Ethiopia had much to do with its links
to the foreign affairs of the Habsburg Spanish dynasty and the so-called
Opinio Pia. Analysing the Jesuit texts, I have found that the Immaculate
Conception images were only the visual aspect of the implementation of this
cult in Ethiopia, that also included changes in more mundane aspects like
greetings or prayers. To conclude, I will discuss the adoption by the Ethiopi-
an Orthodox Church of this iconography and its adaption to a different theo-
logical concept, the Assumption (Felsät) of Mary.
2. An iconography of Iberian roots?
Fəlsäta lämaryam means ‘Assumption of Mary’ in Gəʿəz.1 Its iconogra-
phy has a set of features that unmistakably refer to its origin: the Catholic
Immaculate Conception. It was at the end of the 16th century when the ico-
nography of the Immaculate Conception, until then not defined, was fixed,
receiving the name of Tota Pulchra.2 As such, certain attributes were given
to make it easy to differentiate from other Marian images: a lone Virgin, in-
spired by the Apocalyptical woman (mulier amicta sole, ‘woman clothed
with the sun’), stepping on a crescent moon, with a crown with twelve stars
and rays of sun radiating from her head (Stratton 1988: 39). Also, the Virgin
Mary is dressed in a blue cloak, and her head uncovered. Her hands are dis-
played in a prayer position. In the Ethiopian tradition, all these features are
present, but Mary’s head is depicted covered by the Syriac maphorion, as
showing her uncovered was uncommon in the local art (Chojnacki 1983:
1 It is a wäldu lä-nəguś (‘the king’s son’) construction to express possession without using the
genitive. Fəlsät is presented here with the suffix -a of the feminine third-person singular, and
it means ‘assumption’, among other meanings (Leslau 2010: 239).
2 The sentence Tota pulchra es (‘You are completely beautiful’) comes from a Benedictine
antiphon which became the leitmotiv of the Opinio Pia (Stratton 1988: 17).
The Fəlsäta lämaryam Iconography: A Jesuit Contribution to Ethiopian Art? 225
The powerful, easily recognizable iconography of the Immaculate Con-
ception became one of the most common ones in Western Catholic Europe at
the beginning of the 17th century. It is also considered the last refinement of
the Catholic Church doctrines, expressing the mystical union between God
and the empiric world (Stratton 1988: 3). During the times of the Counter-
Reformation, images became a way to express the Catholic dogma, especial-
ly useful against the iconoclastic Reformed movements. Also, it is important
to understand the link between the Counter-Reformation and the Habsburg
Dynasty, which back then ruled over the united Iberian Union (1580–1640)
and in the Austrian territories.
The development of the Catholic iconography was a long process. Initial-
ly, the complexity of the dogma was expressed through certain abstract
iconographies: Saint Joaquin and Saint Anne meeting at the Golden Gate
was the first attempt at expressing the unsullied conception of Saint Mary,
but it was abandoned at the beginning of the 16th century for the iconogra-
phy of the Tota Pulchra (Stratton 1988: 33). Something similar happened to
the Virga Jesse, which tried to express the Immaculate Conception showing
Mary as a key element in the genealogy of the Salvation (Tree of Jesse), but
it was abandoned during the Renaissance as it was difficult to understand
(Stratton 1988: 17; González Tornel 2021: 73). The Tota Pulchra iconogra-
phy appeared at the beginning of the 16th century, showing Mary surrounded
by the attributes of the bride of the Song of the Songs – who was related to
Mary: «Sol, Stella, Luna, Porta caeli, Lilium ínter spinas, Speculum sine
macula, Hortus conclusus, Fons signatus, Civitas Dei»3 (Stratton 1988: 34).
Nevertheless, this representation suffered a new transformation during the
same century, when it was merged with elements of the Apocalyptic Mulier
Amicta Sole in the works of the Castilian sculptor Juan de Juni (1506–1577),
being later exported from Castille to Italy. The Flemish engraver Maerten de
Vos (1532–1603) also helped to fix this iconography. He knew the Spanish
models well, as his workshop had a tight relation with the Seville art market
(Stratton 1988: 47).
After the Trent Council this iconography became the dominant for repre-
senting the Immaculate Conception. Several people contributed to it, includ-
3 The translation of these attributes in English are ‘Sun, Star, Moon, Gate of Heaven, Lilium
among thorns, stainless mirror, enclosed garden, fountain sealed up, city of God’.
226 MARIO LOZANO ALONSO
ing the Jesuit theologian Jerónimo Nadal, or the Antwerpian engravers
Wierix brothers (González Tornel 2021: 81). The Wierix brothers – Johan-
nes, Hieronymus, and Antonius – despite being Protestants, worked for the
Jesuits and created the engravings of the meditation book Evangelicae histo-
riae imagines, adnotationes et meditationes, which was published in 1594.
Jerónimo Nadal also cooperated with them and Bernardino Passeri in his
Evangelicae Historiae Imagines (1593) (Stratton 1988: 47).
It is known that copies of their works circulated in Ethiopia during the
missionary era, and that the engravings probably were distributed as individ-
ual sheets (Gervers 2007: 166), as could have been the case with the Madon-
na at the Fountain recently found in a manuscript of the Täʾammərä Maryam
(‘Miracles of Mary’) in the Ǝnda Giyorgis monastery (Nosnitsin 2017). But
Hieronymus Wierix’s Immaculate Conception prints have not been found in
the country. Anyway, the resemblances between the Wierix iconography and
those locally painted in Ethiopia during the 17th century make me believe
that they were present in the country and could have served as model for the
The Wierix Immaculate Conception (see Fig. 1a), apart from the classical
Tota Pulchra features, shows a radiant Virgin Mary breaking through a veil
of darkness which fades away, creating a rim of clouds. This rim of clouds
that serves to frame the Virgin like a U-shaped mandorla is present in sever-
al Ethiopian Fəlsäta lämaryam paintings registered by Chojnacki (1983:
322) from the Book of Miniatures, MS Frankfurt on the Main, Stadt-und-
Universitätsbibliothek, Or. Rüpp. IV, 2 (fol. 15r) (17th century, see Fig. 1b),
and from the Daga Ǝsṭifanos Monastery (ca. 1630–1700; see Fig. 1c) (Ibid.:
325). They show simplified versions of the rim of clouds, and even the an-
gels emerge from the inner part of the clouds to look at Mary. The Virgins
are depicted in the same pose as in the Wierix engraving, as the artists that
composed them probably used it as models. The Lauretanian litany elements
depicted in the Wierix print, however, are not present in the Ethiopian imag-
es. As the European original model evolved, the Ethiopian Fəlsäta lämar-
yam did the same. According to Chojnacki (1983: 312), two models can be
established. The first or early model appeared in the 17th century, in which
Virgin Mary stands on a crescent moon, and rays radiate from her head.
There are no stars, and many details are missing.
The Fəlsäta lämaryam Iconography: A Jesuit Contribution to Ethiopian Art? 227
The second model from the 18th century shows more details: Mary’s head
is shown surrounded by stars, rays and shining circles, and the cloak is fas-
tened with a brooch. The paintings are similar to Francisco Pacheco’s In-
maculada paintings, as the iconography evolved during the 18th century in
the Iberian Peninsula (see Figs. 2a and 2b).4
In the case of the first type, as I have explained before, the most likely
models were the paintings and engravings imported into the country by the
Jesuits during their missionary period, including the years of the Catholic
Ethiopian kingdom (1621–1632). The models for the second type were cer-
tainly imported from India, but the political situation was completely differ-
ent: in 1634, the Jesuits were expelled, the Catholicism banned, and any
Catholic entering the country could face a death sentence if discovered
(Martínez d’Alòs-Moner 2015: 313–17; Lozano Alonso 2019: 129–33). In
this article I have discussed only the model for the first and original type, as
those new models that arrived in the country during the 18th century proba-
bly did it through merchants who traded products between India – where
Goa was still a Catholic stronghold – and Ethiopia.
3. The Immaculate Conception and the Spanish Habsburg foreign
The Immaculate Conception dogma upholds that the Virgin Mary was
born conceived without original sin. It is one of the four Catholic Marian
dogmas, along with the Divine Motherhood, Perpetual Virginity, and the As-
sumption. Nevertheless, its incorporation among the Catholic main teachings
was a long, tortuous way that began in the Middle Ages and only ended in
1854 when Pope Pius IX declared it a dogma.
The Immaculate Conception was among the most popular Marian devo-
tions in the medieval Iberian Peninsula. The Castilian tradition links the in-
vention of the feast, celebrated on 8 December, to Saint Ildephonsus (7th cen-
tury), but the first examples of this devotion can be found in the territories of
the Crown of Aragón from 1218 onwards. Saint Pedro Nolasco, Saint Pedro
Pascual and especially the work Liber principiorum Theologicae by Ramón
4 For the particular of the evolution of the Immaculate Conception in Spain during the rest of
the 17th century and the 18th century, see Stratton (1988: 73–116).
228 MARIO LOZANO ALONSO
Llull laid the foundations of the preservation of Virgin Mary from any origi-
nal sin. Also, the Catholic Monarchs, at the end of the 15th century, endorsed
the Immaculate Conception mystery (González Tornel 2021: 18–19).
The devotion to the purity of Mary became a movement inside the
Church called the Opinio Pia (‘The pious opinion’), which bid for the inclu-
sion of the Immaculate Conception among the Catholic Church’s teachings.
The opponents to this Opinio Pia were also a strong group inside the Catho-
lic Church, who received the name of maculistas.5 The rivalry between the
Dominican friars against the Franciscans and Jesuits is well known, and the
Immaculate Conception was another battleground for confrontation, as the
Ignatian order embraced the defence of the Opinio Pia.
The Opinio Pia became a matter of state during Felipe III’s reign (1598–
1621), when the Spanish Habsburg monarchy demanded a politic theology
that supported its project; among the main ideas was the defence of Mary’s
honour (González Tornel 2016: 71). During the 17th century, the city of Se-
ville, the biggest and most important in the Spanish monarchy, was the cen-
tre of its supporters (Domínguez, Jiménez 2010). In 1616, the Real Junta de
la Inmaculada Concepción was established by the king to promote this idea
in Rome, the head of the Catholic Church (González Tornel 2021: 40). From
the second decade onwards, the Spanish diplomatic pressure on Popes Paul
V (1617), Gregory XV (1622) and Alexander VII (1661) allowed the issuing
of several decrees favourable to the mystery, which in general forbade the
enemies of the Opinio Pia to express their objections (González Tornel
The debate originated by the Opinio Pia also affected the newly founded
religious orders. The Jesuits had been linked to the devotion of the Immacu-
late Conception almost since their foundation. Even by 1553 and 1555, two
theses defending the Opinio Pia were due to be defended in the Jesuit Colle-
gium Romanum, but they were finally cancelled because Ignatius of Loyola
considered it as imprudent (Llorca 1955: 588). As early as the 17th century
5 Inmaculistas, in Spanish, is the term used for the supporters of the Immaculate Conception
dogma. Maculistas, on the other hand, were the people who were against it. The Dominican
order followed the reasoning against the Immaculate Conception elaborated by Thomas
Aquinas, while the Franciscan order adopted Duns Scotus’ inmaculista defence (Stratton
The Fəlsäta lämaryam Iconography: A Jesuit Contribution to Ethiopian Art? 229
the order took a clearer position in promoting the Opinio Pia as several
members composed apologetical works (Mendo 1668). The Immaculate
Conception cult and the Ignatian project were from then onwards tightly
linked, and the Jesuits promoted it in the new missionary lands of America,
Africa (Ethiopia) and Asia (Japan and the Philippines), while at the same
time the Habsburg dynasty used it to galvanize the beliefs of the Spanish
Empire’s Catholic community in one of the first, massive propaganda cam-
paigns ever seen in the Christian world (González Tornel 2021: 220).
4. Reaching Ethiopia: The Indian way
The defence of Virgin Mary’s honour was assumed by the Hispanic
Monarchy, and the Jesuit order, as I have explained, embraced the Opinio
Pia with fervour. The arrival of the Immaculate Conception cult and icono-
graphy in Ethiopia happened during the Second Jesuit Mission (1603–1634).
The Jesuits were the only Catholic order authorized by the Pope to conduct a
mission in the country, despite the protest of other orders such as the Domin-
icans (Martínez d’Alòs-Moner 2015: 45–46; Lozano Alonso 2019: 43).
Hence, the followers of Ignatius of Loyola did not have to worry about any
opposing group to the Opinio Pia, as they had free rein to spread their ideas
The First Jesuit mission (1557–1602) was a total failure: the community
of Jesuits led by Andrés de Oviedo, the Catholic Patriarch of Ethiopia, was
almost completely isolated, as the Ethiopian monarchs ignored them, and the
Turkish blockade of the Red Sea made any communication with Goa virtual-
ly impossible, including the arrival of new priests (Alonso Romo 2006; Mar-
tínez d’Alòs-Moner 2015: 93). It can be assumed that it was impossible that
the Opinio Pia and its iconography could have had access to Ethiopia back
But the Second mission (1603–1632) enjoyed a better political momen-
tum. Pedro Páez, the Spaniard leader of the mission from 1603 until 1619
(Lozano Alonso 2019: 78), managed to enter the king Susənyos’s selected
group of advisors. From the beginning, the king showed great interest in the
Catholic faith as it taught the Spanish people to be obedient to the monarch,
a possible model to be imported in feudal Ethiopia (Merid Wolde Aregay
1998: 45). Discreetly, the priest and the king developed a Catholic party that
230 MARIO LOZANO ALONSO
defeated the Traditionalist party – the Orthodox opposers to the growing in-
fluence of the Jesuits – at Ṣädda in 1617 (Páez, in Beccari 1905: 398–99).
The victory paved the way for the banning of the celebration of Sabbath in
the country and the declaration of the Catholic kingdom of Ethiopia on 1
November 1621 (Páez, in Beccari 1906a: 384–86).
The Catholic kingdom had an intense but short life. Páez’s successor in
the post, António Fernandes, made great progress in the redução (‘conver-
sion’) of the natives, work that was continued after the arrival of the Catholic
Patriarch, Afonso Mendes, in 1625. During this time, the missionary project
took advantage of the State apparatus to extend the number of Jesuit resi-
dences in the country, which reached fifteen in 1632 (Martínez d’Alòs-
Moner 2015: 131). Also, the number of converts rose to more than 100,000
in 1628, and more than 300 local priests were ordained, alleviating the bur-
den of the European Jesuit priests (Lozano Alonso 2019: 119).
But when the project reached its climax, it ended abruptly. On 24 June
1632, Susənyos revoked the decree that declared Ethiopia a Catholic coun-
try, restoring the Orthodoxy (Almeida, in Beccari 1908: 174). A few months
later, the king died, with his son Fasilädäs, who went on to expel the Jesuits
out of the country and banned Catholicism in 1634, inheriting the throne
(Almeida’s books IX and X, in Beccari 1908). There were several reasons
behind the failure of the mission: the harsh religious policy of the Jesuits
against the Orthodox faith and its lack of respect towards the local traditions,
which made the locals perceive Catholicism as a foreign, hostile faith; the
resistance of the Orthodox majority, which ended in open rebellions that
caused a religious war in the country; and the opposition of noblewomen,
who were against the imposition of the Catholic marriage customs, are all
key to explaining the wreckage of the Jesuit project in Ethiopia (Martínez
d’Alòs-Moner 2015: 275–310; Lozano Alonso 2022).
Despite this, culturally speaking the impact of the Jesuit mission was
considerable. The architecture benefited from the introduction of chunambo
– lime mortar – in 1625 (Almeida, in Beccari 1907: 390).6 The imported
courtly culture, reflected in the magnificent palace of Dänqaz, was copied by
6 Lime mortar was known during Aksumite times, but its use was rare and probably it was
forgotten during the Middle Ages (Phillipson 2012: 123).
The Fəlsäta lämaryam Iconography: A Jesuit Contribution to Ethiopian Art? 231
the Gondarine monarchs, transforming Gondär into the new permanent capi-
tal city of the kingdom.7
Even though the most obvious way to bring the images to Ethiopia would
seem to be straight from Europe, they probably arrived via India. Transport-
ing European paintings or sculptures was a very unlikely endeavour, as the
journey from Spain or Portugal was long, and the risk that the pieces could
be damaged during transportation high. Even though Goa is not close to
Ethiopia, back then it was the Catholic centre in South Asia. This Indian city
also had a church devoted to the Immaculate Conception,8 now named after
Saint Paul, just as Diu, an important Portuguese port and key for the success
of the Ethiopian mission, had one that still is open under that advocation.
The Immaculate Conception images, alongside the Salus Populi Romani
icons, were also imported by the Jesuits into its most famous failed land of
mission, Japan, probably also from Goa. During the Catholic persecution,
the Immaculate Conception iconography was employed in the infamous fu-
mi-e, low-relief brass plaques that were stepped during the ceremonies of
apostasy (Mochizuki 2022: 150–54).
Not only paintings and sculptures crossed the Indian Ocean. The presence
of Indian artisans is well attested in the Jesuit sources. The architect of the
Dänqäz palace was of that origin (Fernández, Torres, Martínez d’Alòs-
Moner, et al. 2017: 304), as was the mason who built the Alaṭa bridge (Al-
meida, in Beccari 1908: 231). Mughal influences can be seen in the build-
ings associated with the Jesuits. The arabesque decorations in the church of
Märṭulä Maryam were made by Indian artisans, likewise the pool with the
pavilion from Gännätä Iyäsus, which served as a model for the Fasilädäs
Bath (Martínez d’Alòs-Moner 2015: 257–58). Also, the winged angels in
Märṭulä Maryam and those most recently found in the façade of the Gorgora
Nova Iyäsus church are similar to Iberian models used in Indian churches
(Fernández, Martínez d’Alòs-Moner, Torres forthcoming; on the church, see
Fernández 2019: 41–62). If architects and other artisans came to work with
the Jesuits or for the royal court, why cannot it be assumed that the same
happened with painters? Plus, after the end of the Mission, some of those ar-
7 On the courtly models imported, see Cañete, de Torres (2017).
8 The architect of this church, Juan Martínez or João Martins, used the same plans in the Gor-
gora Nova new church (Martínez d’Alòs-Moner 2015: 244).
232 MARIO LOZANO ALONSO
tisans remained in Ethiopia, cooperating with the Gondarine monarchs in
their architectural projects (Fasil Giorghis 1999: 33).
Some of the Immaculate Conception paintings that arrived in Ethiopia
were painted in India by local artisans who added some local features to
them, like the topknot on Mary’s hair, and Indian-like clothing. Goa was an
important Catholic centre in India and provided devotional objects to Ethio-
pia (Chojnacki 1983: 313). Even though the importation of these Indian-
influenced Immaculate Conception paintings during the Jesuit Mission can-
not be completely ruled out, the oldest examples date from the 18th century.
Maybe some of them could have been introduced during that period, but
none of the possible original paintings are preserved. Considering that Ca-
tholicism was banned in Ethiopia in 1634, the Jesuit introduction of these
paintings seems unlikely. It could be reasonable to think that the high de-
mand for the newly developed Fəlsäta lämaryam was satisfied by Indian
merchants that imported paintings created in Goa into Ethiopia. Chojnacki
(1983: 327–30) already studied some of them,9 and the one from the MS 73
of the IES collection in Addis Ababa is probably one of the most famous
(Chojnacki 1983: 313–14; Heldman 1993: 251–52). Also, I identified one of
them in the museum of the Ura Kidanä Məḥrät Monastery, in the Lake Ṭana
region. Displayed on a piece of cloth, the Fəlsäta lämaryam is linked to a
Dormition painting, and it is placed on the lower-right corner (18th–19th cen-
turies). In this case, Mary is presented in a contrapposto and with the typical
Indian topknot on her hair. The cloak is blown by the wind in a graceful rep-
resentation (see Fig. 3).
5. The diffusion of the cult and the iconography of the Immaculate
Conception in Ethiopia
Once it has been clarified how this iconography reached Ethiopia via In-
dia, it is important to explain the ways in which the Immaculate Conception
9 Some of the examples named by Chojnacki (1983: 327–330) are the Book of Hymns and
Prayers (18th–19th centuries), MS Addis Ababa, IES 73, and the Prayers of the Virgin Mary
(18th century), MS Frankfurt-am-Main, Stadt- und Universitätsbibliothek, Or. Rüpp. IV, 1,
(fol. 6r), among others.
The Fəlsäta lämaryam Iconography: A Jesuit Contribution to Ethiopian Art? 233
cult was promoted among the new Ethiopian converts, and how the icono-
graphy could have been adapted to the Orthodox need after the Jesuit fall.
As Chojnacki (1983: 312) has described, I have not yet found any image
of the Immaculate Conception, printed or painted, that could have definitely
been used as a model for the Ethiopian versions. But although none has been
found, they certainly had to exist, as there is textual evidence of them, and
because the expansion of the cult to the Immaculate Conception demanded
images to support it. Nevertheless, the Wierix engraving could have been the
As I have explained, the Jesuits had powerful reasons to extend the cult
to the Immaculate Conception in all the territories in which they were estab-
lished. Pedro Páez offers us the first reference to this image in one letter
signed in Fəremona on 24 July 1603. There he informed Nicolão Pimenta,
praepositum of the Jesuits in Goa, that he had found and sent to Goa part of
the skull of the first Catholic Patriarch of Ethiopia, Andrés de Oviedo. As a
reward, he asks for:
[…] an image of Our Lady of the Conception10 of 5 or 6 palmos11 for this
church that has no images; it can come rolled up, because it will be of the
greatest devotion among this people.12
The letter even offers information on how the paintings13 were transport-
ed to Ethiopia: emrolada (‘rolled up’, in Portuguese), a safer way to
transport the images for long sea travels, especially at a time when the Turks
10 Another name given to the Immaculate Conception.
11 The palmo was a Spanish unit of length equivalent roughly to 20 cm. It was made up by 12
equal dedos (fingers). The measure would be around 1.20 metres.
12 The translation is mine. The original in Portuguese is as follows: «Em premio disto faça V.
R. charidade de me mandar huma imagem de N. Sra. da Conceição, de 5 ou 6 palmos, pera
esta igreja que não tem imagens; pode vir emrolada, porque será de grande devação a essa
gente» (Páez, in Beccari 1911: 58).
13 It was a painting and not a sculpture because it was sent emrolada (rolled up). This would
be impossible to do with a sculpture. On the other hand, Páez knew well that the Orthodox
doctrine is against any kind of sculpture as it is considered a kind of idolatry (McGuckin
2008: 354–55), so placing a statue in Fəremona at the beginning of his mission could have
been seen as a provocation, especially because of the small size of the Catholic community in
234 MARIO LOZANO ALONSO
made communication between Ethiopia and India difficult. As Páez himself
had to travel disguised as an Armenian trader as a measure of self-
protection, a rolled-up painting could be better hidden from possible assault-
Páez’s letter is the only mention of an Immaculate Conception painting
that has been found. Images are important for the Catholic cult, and probably
prints of the Virgin Mary as the Immaculate Conception were surely distrib-
uted among the faithful. The presence and influence in Ethiopia of Jerónimo
Nadal’s Evangelicae Historia Imagines (1593), Adnotationes et meditationes
in Evangelia (1594) and, especially, the Evangelium Arabicum (1590) by
Antonio Tempesta in the Gondarine royal style has been already studied
(Gervers 2022; Kuvatova 2019; Bosc-Tiessé 2004; Balicka-Witakowska
1992; Chojnacki 1974; Id. 1985). The engravings were conceived to be used
en masse, supporting evangelization. Also, the fathers used portable images
of the Virgin Mary (probably engravings of the Immaculate among them)
that they carried with them when they preached (Barradas, in Beccari 1912:
479). On some occasions, a small icon could have been displayed in a pro-
cession, while engravings printed on paper were handed out to the faithful.14
The Wierix brother’s workshop furnished the engravings used by the Jesuits,
and it cannot be disregarded that local workshops were established by the
order in Ethiopia to produce prints (Martínez d’Alòs-Moner 2015: 221–22).
As Gervers (2022: 101) has suggested, after the expulsion of the Jesuits
the painters working in the royal scriptoria had access to Nadal and Tempes-
ta’s books, copying them in a simplified version in their manuscripts. They
had enough time to do so between 1632 and 1665, the year in which king
Fasilädäs ordered all the remaining books of the Jesuits to be burnt (Bé-
guinot 1901: 53).
The fire was, then, the most likely fate of all the existent engravings of
the Immaculate Conception in Ethiopia. Nevertheless, not all the Jesuit
prints were destroyed. In a rare finding, two of the Nadal engravings are still
preserved pasted on the walls of a rock-cut church in Tigray, Maryam
14 The most famous example of Jesuit engraving is the Salus Populi Romani, also known as
the Virgin of Saint Luke or Santa Maria Maggiore, which has become an iconographic ele-
ment in Ethiopian Christian Art as it began to be copied locally soon after its introduction into
the country by the Ignatian order (Heldman 2010).
The Fəlsäta lämaryam Iconography: A Jesuit Contribution to Ethiopian Art? 235
Dəngəlat (Gervers 2003). Its presence in a remote church in Tigray shows
that many other prints by the same artist probably circulated through the
whole country, and that some of them survived hidden, so they exposed
when the Jesuit crisis was forgotten, probably around 1700 (Gervers 2007:
Also, the Catholic Church allows the veneration of sculptures of saints in
its churches. There is a reference to a sculpture of the blessed Virgin Mary
that was venerated in Fəremona with great success alongside the tomb of the
Patriarch Andrés de Oviedo, but it is not a reference to the Immaculate Con-
ception, but to the Salus Populi Romani (Belcher 2017: 68).15 It is known
that they imported sculptures of the Immaculate Conception and many other
saints into Ethiopia, but none of them have survived. There is a reason for
this: the Ethiopian Orthodox is strict in not allowing the veneration of sculp-
tures as it is considered idolatry, so the Jesuits decided to burn all of them in
the days of their expulsion from the country in 1634, fearing that the Ortho-
dox could desecrate them (Almeida, in Beccari 1908: 187). This is con-
firmed in the church of Märṭulä Maryam (Goǧǧam). Its northern lateral door
is decorated with an oval sun, a common decoration in Jesuit Churches,
which usually showed the emblem of the order (JHS) or a depiction of Vir-
gin Mary (maybe the Immaculate Conception?) (see Fig. 4). An interesting
fact is that the church still preserves plaques with the jar of Lilium candidum,
a flower associated with Mary’s purity (see Fig. 5; Fernández, Torres, Mar-
tínez d’Alòs-Moner, et al. 2017: 401–02). In some Immaculate Conception
engravings of New Spain, Mary seems to sprout from one of these flowers
(Calvo Portela 2017: 86).
The cult of the Immaculate Conception did not only involve placing
paintings and statues. The Jesuits tried to insert this devotion among the
most trivial aspects of life, like in greetings. In one letter signed by Śǝʿlä
Krǝstos, half-brother of king Susənyos and one of the most prominent sup-
porters of Catholicism in the country, he began a letter to his brother with
the formula «Praise be the virginal purity of Virgin Mary, our Lady» (Al-
meida, in Beccari 1908: 179). Also, the priests encouraged the faithful to in-
15 After two paragraphs, the author gives more information about the iconography of the
Blessed Virgin Mary: «is which we commonly call that of Saint Luke» (Belcher 2017: 68),
the Salus Populi Romani.
236 MARIO LOZANO ALONSO
clude in their daily greetings references to the Immaculate Conception (Bar-
radas, in Beccari 1912: 479).
The devotion was probably quite successful among the converts and the
burtukan.16 During the final persecution of the Catholics, Luis Rapozo and
his wife were killed in 1635, and among their cited everyday customs were
praying a rosary devoted to the Immaculate Conception (Almeida, in Beccari
6. From the Immaculate Conception to Fəlsäta lämaryam: theological
aspects of the adoption of this iconography by the Ethiopian Orthodox
Even though the Jesuit mission failed, it is a fact that the Immaculate
Conception was one of several Ignatian cultural influences that remained in
the country. Fasilädäs started the Gondarine era, in which some ideas im-
ported by the Jesuits, such as the creation of a permanent capital – Gondär –
or a more centralised royal power, were maintained. Some Indian artisans,
who probably came with the Jesuits but chose to stay, also cooperated in the
construction works boosted by the nəguś, such as, for example, his castle at
Gondär or the bridges built close to Gondär (Fernández, Torres, Martínez
d’Alòs-Moner, et al. 2017: 469–71). It is not strange, then, that a Catholic
iconography like the Immaculate Conception was present among other ex-
amples of local art from the 17th century onwards, even though its theologi-
cal meaning had to be changed.
The popularity of the iconography among the people had to be enormous,
but its adoption by the Ethiopians posed a challenging question to the local
Orthodox Church: how could they fit the Immaculate Conception to repre-
sent any of the Marian local dogmas?
In fact, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception does not exist in the
Ethiopian Orthodox Church nor in the rest of the Orthodox Churches, both
in the Oriental and Eastern rites. Therefore, the Immaculate Conception of
16 The burtukan or Ethio-Portuguese were people of mixed Ethiopian and Portuguese origin.
Most of them descended from the marriages of Portuguese soldiers and Ethiopian women af-
ter Christovão da Gama’s campaign in the country (1541–1543) (Martínez d’Alòs-Moner
The Fəlsäta lämaryam Iconography: A Jesuit Contribution to Ethiopian Art? 237
Mary was not present among the local church teachings. One of the Jesuits
that worked in Ethiopia, Manuel Barradas, criticized the local Orthodox
church for not celebrating the Immaculate Conception of Virgin Mary or the
births of Saint John the Baptist and Virgin Mary (Barradas, in Beccari
Nevertheless, the Immaculate Conception idea could have been born in
the East, as in the Protoevangelium of James, composed in Syria in the sec-
ond half of the 2nd century, the Immaculate Conception of Mary is not open-
ly expressed, but implied (Stratton 1988: 3).
The absence of the Immaculate Conception among their teachings does
not imply that the Orthodox churches deny the purity of Mary. The fact be-
hind their rejection of that Catholic dogma lies in the different ideas about
the original sin in the Latin and in the Oriental traditions. The Catholic orig-
inal sin is based in Augustine of Hippo’s ideas. According to him, Adam’s
original sin is transmitted from parent to offspring, making infants’ souls
guilty. Therefore, baptism at an early age is required to save them (Demaco-
poulos, Papanikolaou 2008: 30). Clement of Alexandria, Athanasius, Cyril
of Alexandria and other classic Orthodox theologians rejected the transmis-
sion of this original sin, as they considered that the fall of Adam did not
cause humankind’s damnation, but that it provoked a weakening of human
nature through illness, concupiscence, physical death or fatigue (Beatrice
2013: 259–60). In short, the Immaculate Conception dogma cannot exist in
the Orthodox Church because it would be redundant, as Mary was already
free of any original sin.
The Immaculate Conception is referred to in the Jesuit texts, as we have
seen, but it is not present in any theological debate, and there were many, be-
tween the Catholic and Orthodox churches.17 This can be explained, perhaps,
because the Catholic missionaries were not interested in debating it, but in
Theological debates aside, the fact is that despite Catholicism being
barred from the country, the Immaculate Conception iconography remained.
It is very possible that the resemblance between the iconography of the As-
sumption and that of the Immaculate Conception contributed to the latter be-
ing replaced by the former.
17 On the theological debates, see Cohen (2009).
238 MARIO LOZANO ALONSO
From the end of the 16th century onwards, it was not uncommon for both
iconographies to be confused. During the 15th century, the Assumption ico-
nography in Spain adopted features of the Mulier amicta sole, such as the
rays of sun, the crescent moon and the Virgin surrounded by angels, as in
other Marian iconographies like the Virgin of the Rosary (Boto Varela 2002;
Flores Matute 2018). The common elements in both iconographies were en-
dorsed by the inmaculistas, as they considered that the Assumption of Mary
to Heaven was possible because of her preservation of the original sin (Strat-
ton 1988: 41, 47–48).
As Stratton (1988: 30) has established, sometimes it is very difficult to
differentiate one from the other, as was the case with the Immaculate Con-
ception painted by El Greco between 1603–1617, for a long time considered
a painting of the Assumption. The alleged difference based on the movement
and the direction of the gestures, ascending for the Immaculate Conception
and descending for the Assumption, has been proven wrong or inconclusive
(Stratton 1988: 34, n. 66). One of the ways to differentiate between both im-
ages is the absence of litany elements in the Assumption paintings.18 Proba-
bly, images of the Assumption of Mary were imported from Goa into Ethio-
pia, despite the Jesuit sources remaining silent about it, so the local Ethiopi-
ans could have known – and confused – both iconographies.
I have not found any reference to this question in the known Ethiopian
sources. And yet, a decision must have been made, eventually, as the Im-
maculate Conception became the Fəlsäta lämaryam. Following Gervers
(2022: 101), before the king’s alleged order for the destruction of the Catho-
lic-related imagery, some artists could have overseen the reproduction, sim-
plified, of the Immaculate Conception engravings. Perhaps the same artists
that illustrated the manuscripts also made the first mural paintings of Fəlsäta
lämaryam that decorate many churches in the region of Lake Ṭana. The ear-
ly presence of this iconography could be more frequent in churches of the
18 The Lauretanian litany was developed around 1500, and its elements became dominant
when representing the Immaculate Conception (Stratton 1988: 35).
The Fəlsäta lämaryam Iconography: A Jesuit Contribution to Ethiopian Art? 239
region close to the capital city, Gondär, which was also the most affected by
the Jesuit mission, as it was the core of the kingdom.19
The adoption and adaptation of the Immaculate Conception to the As-
sumption was probably conceived in the royal scriptoria. The confusion of
the Catholic Assumption and Immaculate Conception iconographies made
their work easier, as from then onwards every reference to the Immaculate
Conception was erased and substituted by the Assumption. But that was not
enough. To reassure the relation of the iconography to the narrative of
Mary’s Assumption, in many cases the Fəlsäta lämaryam paintings are
linked to Byzantine-like Dormition of Mary scenes, gaining popularity in the
mid-17th century, just after the Jesuit expulsion (Chojnacki 1983: 297). Also,
the Lauretanian litany elements present in the Wierix images do not appear
in the Ethiopian images, perhaps to detach the iconography from the Immac-
ulate Conception, as in the Catholic Assumption images the litany is not pre-
sent. Nevertheless, no local references point in this direction, as much re-
search must be done on the topic.
The Immaculate Conception was more than a simple Marian devotion, it
was also part of the imperial propaganda created by the Hispanic Monarchy.
As such, its diffusion in Ethiopia was one of the tasks of the Jesuits installed
in the country, which had no opposition from other groups as they had the
exclusive rights to evangelize the country.
According to the data exposed before, this iconography entered in Ethio-
pia during the Second Jesuit Mission (1603–1634). The examples of Fəlsäta
lämaryam paintings of the 17th century have a clear Iberian origin, probably
based on the Wierix engravings distributed by the Jesuits in the country. The
Indian-inspired examples of the 18th century were probably introduced from
Goa by merchants due to the popularity of the iconography, as Catholicism
was banned in Ethiopia from 1634 onwards.
19 More research is required about this topic. It has been impossible to check if the concentra-
tion of images of Fəlsäta lämaryam is higher in the Lake Ṭana region, as can be assumed, as
it was the royal centre.
240 MARIO LOZANO ALONSO
Analysing the sources, I have found that the Immaculate conception was
not just a new iconography of the Virgin Mary in Ethiopia. The Jesuit texts
allow us to understand how paintings and probably sculptures were placed in
the newly built Catholic churches, but also how the cult of the Immaculate
Conception tried to permeate other aspects of daily life, such as greetings or
After the expulsion of the Ignatian order and the prohibition of Catholi-
cism in 1634,20 probably most of the Jesuit images of Immaculate Concep-
tion were destroyed. But the model remained in the country and was adopted
in the local artistic tradition, in this case the Royal Gondarine style, probably
taking as models the Wierix engravings of the Immaculate Conception. In
the 18th century, the Indian influences in the iconography suggest that, de-
spite the ban on Catholicism in Ethiopia, the Immaculate Conception paint-
ings still arrived in the country, probably through traders from Goa.
The adaptation of the Immaculate Conception to the Fəlsäta lämaryam
(the Assumption of Mary) was due to the inexistence of that Catholic teach-
ing in the Ethiopian Orthodox church. The reason for that is the divergence
on the idea of original sin in both churches, which makes the Catholic dog-
ma unnecessary in the Ethiopian case. The resemblance between the Immac-
ulate Conception and the Assumption Catholic iconographies facilitated the
local artists’ substitution of the first by the latter. This probably was con-
ceived in the royal Gondarine-sponsored scriptoria and workshops of paint-
ers, as in some cases the Fəlsäta lämaryam is linked to Dormition scenes,
showing a deliberate split with the Immaculate Conception iconography.
More research is required to analyse this interesting case in Ethiopian Art in
more depth, especially by cataloguing the examples existing in the country.
20 It is generally considered that the mission ended in 1632, after the decree of religious free-
dom (24th June) and the death of Susənyos (16 September), but the formal expulsion of the
Jesuits and the ban on Catholicism in the country was enforced in September 1634. The pro-
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Fig. 1a – The Virgin with the Symbols of the Lauretanian Litany. Hieronymus Wierix, ca.
1573–1619. Metropolitan Museum, New York. Note the ten medallions of the Lauretanian
Litany on both sides. 1b – Fəlsäta lämaryam extracted from Chojnacki (1983: 322).
1c – Painting on canvas, ca. 1630–1700. Dägä Ǝsṭifanos monastery (from Chojnacki 1983:
Fig. 2 – Examples of Fəlsäta lämaryam of the second type from the lake Ṭana region (Zäge
Peninsula). 2a – Mural painting, 18th–19th centuries, Ura Kidanä Məḥrät Monastery.
2b – Mural painting, 18th–19th Aswa Maryam Monastery. © Mario Lozano Alonso.
Fig. 3 – Fəlsäta lämaryam. Painting on cloth
from the Museum of the Ura Kidanä Məḥrät
(18th–19th centuries). © Mario Lozano
Fig. 4 – The northern lateral door from
the central nave of Märṭulä Maryam. On
top can be seen the plaque in which the
Jesuit emblem or the Immaculate
Conception was erased after the
expulsion. Photo courtesy of Víctor M.
Fig. 5 – The Lilium candidum vase bas-
relief from Märṭulä Maryam church (ca.
1626). Photo courtesy of Víctor M.
The realization of this volume was partially sponsored by the Statehorn Project, based at the
Institute of Heritage Sciences of the Spanish National Research Council (Incipit-CSIC). The
editing was partially financed by GAIN (Galician Innovation Agency).
Cover image: Bas-relief sculpted ashlar with the head of a winged angel (two-winged angel
heads and a rosette) from the façade of the Jesuit church of Gorgora Nova next to Lake Ṭana,
2018 excavations. © Víctor M. Fernández.
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