Apotropaic Ethiopia: Early Examples of Spiritual Protection from Christian Africa

Vincent Reed a specialist in wood restoration and conservation travelled to Ethiopia in Africa, as a member of an official ICOMOS (The International Council on Monuments and Sites) delegation, to visit the ancient Christian Churches and investigate their structure, fabric and historic features, as well as the historic timbers used in their construction, design and decoration.

Whilst exploring these ancient structures, Vincent was amazed at the age of the buildings and their surviving stone, timber, carved and painted attributes.

As well as looking at the many aspects of these religious buildings, Vincent noticed and photographed many different apotropaic or spiritual protection marks and devices. He knew from the buildings he had worked on in the United Kingdom, where he had come across many examples of witch marks, that a lot of these protection marks and devices, possibly outdated those we see evidence of in the UK today.

Vincent considered the historic ramifications of what he had identified, and how far back in time some of these protective symbols might extend, and even the connotation that some of these symbols, often found in UK and European medieval churches, could possibly predate Christianity.

Ethiopian Christianity and its denomination as the ‘Ethiopian Orthodox Church’ came to the ancient African nation from Egypt and its Coptic Church. It is one of the oldest forms of Christianity in the world. Ethiopia was also the first country to accept Islam as a religion. Prophet Muhammad, his family and followers, sheltered in Ethiopia while they were being persecuted by the Arabians. The country also had a Jewish queen in the 10th century, and is home to the Black Jews, who claim they are a lost tribe of Israel and descendants of Solomon.

We will also have heard about Ethiopia’s most famous queen, the Queen of Sheba, who is recorded within the Old Testament as visiting Jerusalem, and meeting King Solomon, who it is said, fathered a child with her, who became King Menelik, the first Emperor of the Ethiopian Empire, and the beginning of its line of Emperors, who all claimed they were descended from Sheba and Solomon. The country itself is one of just a few, mentioned many times in the Old Testament.

Ethiopia also claims that the Ark of the Covenant, which houses the Ten Commandments, given to Moses by God, is housed in a church in Aksum.

Vincent’s observations suggest a possible link between Christian Africa, the Holy Land and Europe. If these similar and same protective symbols exist in Ethiopia, on buildings and their parts, of which some date to the early medieval period, then we must ask how have they travelled so far?

Did Europe copy these practices from their exploits in the medieval Crusades, bringing back their forms and usage, and was that link forgotten over time? And if so, does that mean that many of these protective symbols had existed in the Holy Land and other early Christian centres, for them only to be destroyed in some cases due to the aftermath of the Crusades, with only the remotest reaches of countries like Ethiopia, having them survive the world’s timeless conflicts, wars and religious iconoclasts?

Undoubtedly some of the designs and decorative panels Vincent photographed in these early Christian Ethiopian Churches will be unique to the African country, and most likely not found elsewhere, although there certainly seems with some of the geometric patterns, a link to other early medieval cultures, like the knotwork patterns of the Celts, Vikings and Anglo-Saxons, as well as with Islam too.

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As part of the delegation, Vincent visited the following sites in Ethiopia:-

1. Abuna Aregawi timber church; 6th century AD; Debre Damo; this church was visited on the 23rd January 2019.

2. Tcherqos rock-hewn church; 8th century AD; Wukro; this church was visited on 23rd January 2019.

3. Tcherqos Agabo timber church; 8th century AD; Tigray; this church was visited on 24th January 2019.

4. Debra Selam Mikael timber cave church; 8th century AD; Tigray; this church was visited on 24th January 2019.

5. Mikael Imba rock-hewn church; 8th century AD; Tigray; this church was visited on 24th January 2019.

6. Yimrahanna Kristos cave church; early 11th century AD; Lalibela; this church was visited on 25th January 2019.

7. Makina Medhane Alam cave church; 12th/13th century AD; this church was visited on 26th January 2019.

8. Lideta Maryam cave church; 13th century AD; Gennata Maryam; this church was visited on 26th January 2019.

9. Beta Giyorgis (Church of St. George) rock-hewn church; 12th-13th century AD; Lalibela; this church was visited on 27th January 2019.

10. Beta Madhane Alem (Church of the Saviour of the World); 12th-14th century AD; Lalibela.

11. Beta Maryam (Church of Mary); 12th-14th century AD; Lalibela.

12. Beta Masqal (Church of the Cross); 12th-14th century AD; Lalibela.

13. Beta Danagel (Church of the Virgins); 12th-14th century AD; Lalibela.

14. Beta Mika’el (Church of Michael); 12th-14th century AD; Lalibela.

15. Beta Golgotha (Church of Golgotha); 12th-14th century AD; Lalibela.

16. Beta Emmanuel (Church of Emmanuel); 12th-14th century AD; Lalibela.

17. Beta Abba Libanos (Church of Father Libanos); 12th-14th century AD; Lalibela.

18. Beta Merkurios (Church of Mercurius); 12th-14th century AD; Lalibela.

19. Beta Gabriel and Beta Rafa’el (the twin churches of Gabriel and Raphael); 12th-14th century AD; Lalibela.

Beta Giyorgis Rock-Hewn Church, 12th-13th Century AD, Lalibela

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After returning from Ethiopia, Vincent was intrigued by what he had witnessed and scoured the internet for information on some of the protective marks he had seen. He came across an interesting and comprehensive article upon protective marks in the UK, titled ‘Protective Devices, Apotropaic Symbols and Witch Marks; on Historic Buildings; with examples from Cheshire, Shropshire and Staffordshire, 2018’ (link @ https://sites.google.com/site/charlesfaireyhistorian/publications/protective-devices-apotropaic-symbols-and-witch-marks), and decided to contact the author, Charles E S Fairey, to see if he could help interpret and present his findings from Ethiopia.

After Vincent and Charles made contact and shared information concerning the early Christian protective symbols, they decided together, that it would prove very informative and interesting to share what had been found and the interpretation thereof, with the general public and wider apotropaic world, by creating a website about them.

This culminated in what you see here: ‘Apotropaic Ethiopia: Early Examples of Spiritual Protection from Christian Africa’, which classifies each type and symbol of protective device/ mark, with the interpretation thereof, and the wider implications of what each might represent, suggest and mean.

The examples found in Ethiopia, some of which are also found in Europe and in the UK, also show us the universal application of ‘warding off evil’ through time, as a central theme across cultures, and especially of those cultures which are Christian. It speaks of the superstitious past and how those worries extended across all people of all nations, throughout time.

They also help us to contrast and compare the similarities or differences between apotropaic devices between the two Christian countries, as well as in some cases in Ethiopia, reminding us of what we have lost due to the outlawing of Catholicism and its richly decorated, embellished, and iconic churches, priories, abbeys and cathedrals, and the destruction of such buildings during the Reformation, Puritan iconoclasm, and whitewashing of interiors throughout the UK.

These examples of spiritual protection in Ethiopia also serve to show us how different countries followed the Christian faith, and how it has ascended through time, by following a path from today, going backwards to the beginnings of Christianity, perhaps showing our modern minds, the shared faith, symbolism and lineage, of the Christian ‘waye of life’, experienced by differing countries and cultures, through time.

It opens our minds to our shared worldly heritage and religious and spiritual thoughts, and possibly makes us realise that we are a communal people, all hoping to live together, and ascend in being, spirit, soul or even just learning and wisdom, whatever denomination of Christianity we follow, or whatever different faith we follow, or even if we follow no faith at all.

A nice warning to those who think superstition and folklore beliefs is nonsense, to our modern day minds, comes from the celebrated author and photographer, late Sir Simon Marsden, who popularised ghostly and haunted locations across Britain, Ireland, Europe and Russia, in his best known works, with his eerie style of haunting black and white photographs, is:-

“At our peril, we ignore the beliefs of souls who have gone before us…”

Sir Simon Marsden, ‘Ghosthunter’ documentary, Granada TV, May 1992

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Please feel free to explore this website’s pages to learn about each type of apotropaic device, with photographic evidence and the interesting journey from discovery to interpretation.

Select the following links to view other articles about apotropaic marks and devices:-

‘Protective Devices, Apotropaic Symbols and Witch Marks; on Historic Buildings;
with examples from Cheshire, Shropshire and Staffordshire’ by Charles E S Fairey, 2018

@ https://sites.google.com/site/charlesfaireyhistorian/publications/protective-devices-apotropaic-symbols-and-witch-marks

‘Apotropaic Identification’ by Charles E S Fairey, 2018-2019

@ https://sites.google.com/site/charlesfaireyhistorian/publications/apotropaic-identification

‘Witch Marks – Part 1’ by Vincent Reed, 2017

@ https://www.vincentreed.com/witch-craft-marks/

‘Witch Marks – Part 2’ by Vincent Reed, 2017

@ https://www.vincentreed.com/witches-marks-pt2/

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Also as an added bonus, we have included a page on some of the early Ethiopian Christian art which was found in the churches visited, and some information about them.

by Charles E S Fairey and Vincent Reed, 2019

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Mikael Imba Rock-Hewn Church, 8th Century AD, Tigray

Beta Giyorgis Rock-Hewn Church, 12th-13th Century AD, Lalibela

Debra Selam Mikael Timber Cave Church, 8th Century AD, Tigray

Abuna Aregawi Timber Church, 6th Century AD, Debra Damo

Tcherqos Rock-Hewn Church, 8th Century AD, Wukro

Yimrahanna Kristos Cave Church, Early 11th Century AD, Lalibela

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The St Andrew’s Cross, the Saltire, Crux Decussata, or the Boundary Cross

We know form examples in the UK that the Boundary Cross, one of the terms which may be applied to its form, which is usually made up of ‘IXI’, representing a barricaded doorway between the door jambs (frame edges), appears on door furniture and ironmongery from around the 16th century onwards, and sometimes upon wooden heck posts by inglenook fireplaces. Its use only waned relatively recently in the 2nd half of the 20th century.

This is reinforced by the finding of examples of metal gate and door latches made in the late 1970s and 1980s created by local blacksmiths, which is also revealed in Timothy Easton’s article ‘Ritual Marks on Historic Timber, Weald & Downland Open Air Museum Journal, Spring 1999, page 26’, where a 20th century Suffolk blacksmith told him about them.

They are still being used upon traditional latches made by modern day companies, copying the design of those of the past, most likely without realising what the actual symbol represents. See: https://www.suffolklatchcompany.co.uk/collections/door-furniture-latches.

If we look at the form of the protective mark at its most basic level, we can see that the ‘X’ bars entry through the door from the outside. Imagine in the historic past, people trying to enter a leader’s, lord’s, King’s, Emperor’s tent, house, hall, castle, etc, but the two guards holding crossed staffs, spears, swords or halberds, bar entry to those they deem unfit to enter, or unblock/uncross the way of those they deem fit to enter. This is exactly what these symbols mean in the spiritual protection sense; the ‘X’ symbolically bars entry to those unwanted and malevolent spirits which may cause harm to the occupants, animal or human inside, or their detrimental effect on any object housed within.

The protective device is also known as the ‘butterfly cross’, and another possible interpretation was suggested by CJ Binding and LJ Wilson in their article, ‘Ritual Protection Marks in Wookey Hole and Long Hole, Somerset, 2010, UBSS Proceedings, Volume 25(1), pp. 47-73’, that its use stemmed from the runic alphabet, and the symbol for ‘D’, or ‘dagaz’, which is thought to mean a dawn, or the beginning of the day, and has solar attributes, signifying good luck, protection and the triumph of light over darkness.

In Ethiopia the following examples of the Boundary Cross were discovered:-

The following is a perfect example of a boundary cross barricading a window.

A Boundary Cross Window Barring Entry at Beta Masqal (Church of the Cross), 12th-14th Century AD, Lalibela

Window Lintel at Tcherqos Agabo Timber Church, 8th Century AD, Tigray

Door Lintel at Tcherqos Agabo Timber Church, 8th Century AD, Tigray

The central motif of a vertical line through a diagonal cross, is actually the representation of ‘I’ and ‘X’, the Greek Alphabet’s Iota and Chi, i.e. the first letter(s) of the two words of the name Iesus Christ, because the Greek Alphabet has no letter for ‘J’, so instead the ‘I’ is substituted.

This is much the same as the Chi Rho Symbol which represents Christ, which are the first two Greek Alphabet letters of Christ, i.e. ‘X’ for Ch, and ‘P’ for R.

This central carved motif therefore invokes the protection of Jesus Christ.

Central Muntin to Door at Debra Selam Mikael Timber Cave Church, 8th Century AD, Tigray

Four Boundary Crosses Inscribed Upon a Door at Makina Medhane Alam Cave Church, 12th/13th Century AD

Door Latch at Beta Giyorgis Rock-Hewn Church, 12th-13th Century AD, Lalibela

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Interestingly these examples were found on early and later medieval churches, making up a stone window and upon timber windows and doors, which is not usual for the UK, where they seldom appear on timber, but do sometimes appear upon door ironmongery. In some cases they appear in houses, sometimes on wooden heck posts by inglenook fireplaces, upon house door latches, or outbuildings, and usually they only survive from the 16th century onwards.

These examples from Ethiopia therefore suggest that their use was ancient, and stems far back in time than was originally envisaged.

After these examples were found on these Ethiopian churches, in January 2019, other ancient examples needed to be found, to see if in fact the Boundary Cross goes back even further, and if in fact it is Christian in origin, for if it is early Christian in origin, it opens up the possibility that it also has a holy spiritual aspect, and linked with the Cross of St Andrew, which he and other apostles were crucified upon, and the possibility that other well known ‘X’ Christian symbol, such as the Chi-Rho, may be represented by it. (It has even been suggested by a small group of Biblical historians, archaeological experts and medical experts in the recent decade that, Jesus may have actually been crucified upon a cross Saltire, with a pole in the middle with his title on top, in the actual shape of the Chi-Rho ‘XP’).

From searching the UK’s Portable Antiquities Scheme Database, we find that the Saltire or Boundary Cross does in fact stem back in usage to pre-Christian times, and therefore its most basic interpretation, is the most likely, i.e. to bar entry.

The basic interpretation is especially true of many symbols and images upon religious edifices, because as we know, many pre-Reformation religious worshippers were illiterate, and this was most likely also thought the same of demonic entities, and the form of these symbols and images would need to be basically visible to them, in order for them to realise that the symbol barred them entry, or in the opposite sense, if it was a demon trap, a form of complicated geometric shapes, it would keep them busy trying to figure out the complicated endless puzzle forever, because they couldn’t understand it.

From the Database we find the following antiquities displaying the boundary cross in the form of ‘IXI’, thereby proving its pre-Christian origin:-

  • 1. “KEY (LOCKING) Unique ID: NMS-D6C4D9: Incomplete Roman copper alloy and iron key dating to the period C. AD150-409. The openwork handle consists of two comma-shaped lobes with a moulded stem rising between them which exhibits an old break at the top. At the bottom it tapers into a rectangular socket, each face engraved with a saltire cross with a transverse groove above and below. The socket retains the corroded remains of the iron shank and terminates in an old break.”

See: https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/892150

  • 2. “BROOCH: Unique ID: GLO-70B343: Copper alloy brooch of Colchester derivative, Polden Hill type. It has rearward facing lugs on either end of the wings that hold the pin axis bar, the spring is made of nine curls, the pin is missing. A rearwards facing hook at the top of the head holds the external cord of the spring. Small shoulders flank the head and a flanged collar surrounds the ends of the wings. The top of the bow is decorated with four recessed rectangular panels arrange in a line, the two large centre panels are divided by a cross saltire, while the top and bottom smaller panel have only half of the cross thereby creating a chevron pattern. Traces of blue enamel are present in one of the panels. The lower half of the bow is decorated with a double raised line running down the centre which terminates at the globular foot. The catch plate on the reverse is closed. Dated to circa AD 70-120.”

See: https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/884683

  • 3. “BROOCH: Unique ID: SOM-2451B2: A fragmentary cast copper alloy T-shaped brooch of early Roman date. … The bow has a curved cross-section, shallowly concave on the back and almost flat on the front. It projects at a steep angle from the head initially, followed by a shallower angle beyond. It has been broken across the upper bow as a result of old damage with a diagonal break. On its upper surface the bow is decorated with an incised cross in saltire within the more shallowly angled panel. The sides of the upper bow are rebated. Dated to circa AD 75-150.”

See: https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/631237

  • 4. “UNIDENTIFIED OBJECT: Unique ID: DEV-9DDAD3: A cast copper alloy implement, of unknown function and possibly Roman or Anglo-Saxon in date. At one end, the implement is square in shape with four sides; it gently tapers to a point at the other end, becoming circular, rather than square in section. There is an incised cross or saltire (‘X’) at the square end, possibly used as a stamp, or for decoration. The four sides are decorated with an incised cross, which is bordered by two horizontal lines above and below the cross. At the tapering end is a circular piercing, presumably through which string was passed in a loop in order to hang up the implement for safekeeping. This object has been seen by PAS finds advisors Sally Worrell and Kevin Leahy. Worrell suggests (pers comm, March 2013) that the item is not a Roman stylus or a stamp, but that the item ‘looks like a very exuberantly decorated Roman object’, and points out that saltires are known as a decorative method on Roman objects. Dated to circa AD 43-1066.”

See: https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/551130

  • 5. “UNIDENTIFIED OBJECT: Unique ID: SF-B83BE1: An incomplete cast copper-alloy object of uncertain form, probably dating to the Roman period. Both ends are incomplete due to old breaks. One end (top?) is rectangular in form and section, flaring horizontally but narrowing in section (triangular in profile) towards the incomplete outer edge, which is flattened. The front and back faces have incised decoration comprising three evenly spaced cross saltires separated by double transverse grooves. There are possibly punched dots in the quadrants of the crosses and along each side of the object there is cross-hatching or diagonal hatching. At the flattened terminal there are faintly incised diagonal grooves running from the outer edge towards the top centre of the object, where there may perhaps have been a loop or similar attachment but this is now missing due to old breaks. Dated to circa AD 43-410.”

See: https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/435344

  • 6. “LOCK: Unique ID: BH-F81B80: A copper-alloy lock-bolt of Roman date. The central part of the bolt consists of an openwork panel (damaged at one end) comprising two squares, each containing a saltire cross-shaped rib which creates four triangular apertures. Adjacent to one end of the openwork panel is a solid sub-rectangular panel of thinner section; at the opposite end the bottom edge of the openwork panel extends into a projecting arm. Dated to circa 1-410AD.”

See: https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/269082

  • 7. “NAIL CLEANER: Unique ID: HAMP-7749D3: A worn and abraded fragment probably from a cast copper-alloy Roman toilet article. The fragment has a sub-trapezoidal shape and appears to be broken at both ends. It is decorated seemingly unifacially with an incised cross in saltire between two transverse incisions. The longer edges on this face also have diagonal nicks. Dated to circa AD 43-410.”

See: https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/137967

These historic objects in the majority may in fact just use the Saltire for decoration, however the inclusion of it in No. 1 and No. 6, a Key and a Lock respectively, being again associated with doors and hence where we see these ‘X’ protective symbols, on latches, etc, then we may strongly assume that these Roman artefacts include the Saltire for protection against malevolent and evil forces. You can just imagine if a dark force was able to acquire a key or power over a lock, it would then be able to gain entry easily to carry out its demonic mischief.

We also have to remember that the Romans until late in their Empire, were pagan and had a large polytheistic mythology, as well as believing fervently in superstitions, and therefore these two objects having rather definite protection marks from dark forces, may also imply that the other five objects including the Saltire are not in fact just decoration, but again possibly spiritual protection for the owner.

These objects prove the use of the Boundary Cross or whatever name we give it, in pre-Christian times, and again therefore infer the most basic interpretation of their function, i.e. to bar entry to any evil entity.

Unbelievably, an example of the Boundary Cross, or a series of them, actually completely outdates the Romans, by millennia, and may be found in Ireland, at Newgrange, in the Boyne Valley, County Meath; a prehistoric passage tomb built during the Neolithic period, around 3,200 BC.

Here they are carved from a large monolith stone lintel above the roofbox, which sits behind and above the main entrance, and allows sunlight to ritually enter on the Winter Solstice, illuminating the chamber inside.

Again, these boundary crosses must represent their apotropaic function, of barring entry to evil spirits, and as usual they are associated with an entrance, like the majority of them on much later buildings and door components, yet were carved as many of the other prehistoric apotropaic symbols, far far further into the past than ever envisaged by the apotropaic world.

These boundary crosses or series of Saltires, predate Stonehenge, and the Pyramids, which means they indicate to us that this apotropaic device was employed for at least 5,000+ years!

The Apotropaic Boundary Crosses on the Stone Roofbox Lintel at Newgrange, Ireland

(Reproduced with the kind permission of http://boynevalleytours.com,
source: https://www.knowth.com/images-ng/ng-roofbox-700.jpg)

These examples therefore explain why they have been found at an early date in Ethiopia, and on churches, because if the Roman Empire, as well as its usage in Ireland in the Neolithic, then this protective mark, we may assume is far more ancient than even the Romans, but with the size and power of the Roman Empire, and those cultures before it like, the Greek and Egyptian Empires, then this shows how the practice of employing this symbol may have travelled across the pre-Christian and later Christian world, and the possibility of it travelling via the prehistoric trading corridors too.

Even if we remember its’ most basic meaning as barring entry to those forces not wanted, we can imagine that even cultures without direct experience of the Roman Empire, its form would have easily led to them to using this symbol without it necessarily being inherited from outsiders. I mean in pre-Christian Ethiopia, what better image than that of a tribal leader having guards upon his building’s doorway, protecting it with crossed spears, barring entry to anyone or anything deemed unfit to enter, then you can easily imagine how easily this symbol was transposed into a spiritual protection symbol, and may in fact have grown organically in different world cultures, maybe like in Ireland, as well as it being spread by large conquering civilisations too.

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However, just because we take the most likely interpretation of the symbol as barring entry, it does not mean that in some examples the spiritual protection symbol didn’t mean something else. As we have seen above it can also represent St Andrew and other Apostles who were crucified upon the Saltire, and its other attributes of meaning the dawn, or the beginning of the day, and its’ therefore solar representation, as well as signifying good luck, protection and the triumph of light over darkness.

Another two symbols we may or may not be aware of which use an ‘X’ in their shape, and represent death, or a warning of death, are: the cross Saltire formed from the two long leg bones, as we see in the ‘Jolly Roger’ or pirate flag, below a skull; and the form in which people used to be buried, i.e. rather than having grasping hands in prayer over their chest, they were laid to rest with the forearms crossed over the chest. This was a practice employed by the Egyptians as well as later cultures, stemming right into the later Middle Ages. You only have to imagine a Pharaoh with his crossed forearms, with a crook and flail in each hand representing his power and authority, with both objects descended from the visage of the God of the Dead, mighty Osiris.

Another interesting connection to the protective symbol ‘IXI’, and its use to keep out demonic forces, is that the Latin word ‘eixir/EIXIR’ includes these letters to its central part, and the etymology of the word comes from the Latin ‘eixit’, which means ‘to quit’ or ‘exit’, and that word comes from the Latin ‘exeo’, which means ‘go out of, from’, which is a much similar meaning to that of the Greek word for protective marks, i.e. apotropaic, which is ‘to ward off’, or ‘to turn away’.

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Interestingly, the shape of the St Andrew’s cross or Saltire, was employed as part of the rituals of medieval church consecration. As part of the ritual painted or carved crosses were placed at each corner of a new church, and also placed on the stone altar tables, at each corner to form that same shape between.

Stone altar tables and their corner carved consecration crosses are rare in the UK, due to the Puritan iconoclasm, but examples of these with their consecration crosses intact, exist. Two such churches with intact cross consecrated stone altar tables are: St Michael’s Church at Garway, Herefordshire; and St Peter’s Church, at Peterchurch, also in Herefordshire.

The Catholic pre Reformation stone altar tables where they do exist, usually have four crosses to each corner, and a cross to their centre, and represent the Five Holy Wounds of the crucified Christ, i.e. the nail wounds on his hands and feet, as well as the lance which pierced his side. So therefore they represent the Crucifix, and again exist in a St Andrew’s cross or Saltire shape.

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Another possible form of the boundary cross appears on some medieval churches in Cheshire: at St Bertoline’s Church Tower in Barthomley; and at St Chad’s Tower in Wybunbury; both dating to the 15th century.

At these church towers carved high up on the stone blocks are decorative friezes, running around the perimeter of the square towers. They are different to the usual boundary cross, in that they have protrusions upon their lines, and actually may represent a series of square bounded trefoils (an ornamental design of three rounded lobes like a clover leaf). If they are in fact a decorative frieze of trefoil designs, then the four trefoils to each square represent 12 parts, and maybe the ‘X’ represents Christ, so even if not boundary crosses, they may also be interpreted as apotropaic, for they invoke Christ and his 12 disciples to protect these buildings.

Interestingly these two Cheshire church towers, at the corner of their ‘X’ shaped friezes, have the carved stone figure representative forms of the Four Evangelists or the writers of the four Gospels in the New Testament, i.e. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, who are represented by a winged man, a winged lion, a winged ox, and a eagle, respectively. If we draw lines from each corner of the tower from these representations of the Four Evangelists, we get another hidden ‘X’.

Therefore these ‘X’ shaped friezes maybe an alternative form of the boundary cross, as well as being square decorative trefoil panels, and in either case they may act apotropaically.

The Decorative Frieze at St Bertoline’s Church Tower at Barthomley, 15th century, Cheshire

The Decorative Frieze at St Chad’s Tower at Wybunbury, 15th century, Cheshire

In total, nine churches in Cheshire are decorated with this distinctive band of criss-cross patterning, although at St Andrew’s Church, Tarvin, and St Michaels and All Angels Church, Middlewich, the decorative friezes are a variant from the above, and are actually made up of quatrefoil panels, and alternating quatrefoil and trefoil panels, respectively.

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Bull’s (Cattle) Horns

Bull’s or cattle horns and skulls were often depicted upon buildings, in timber and in stone, often fixed on gables, or over a doorway, or above or below windows, as a protection device against evil spirits and as a guarantee of prosperity (i.e. a horn of plenty). Cattle horns and skulls since the prehistoric period have been used for protection and burial rites, as well as denoting wealth to others, of the cattle herder / farmer, and of course fertility.

Interestingly the same is true for the UK as well as Ethiopia, however I have only seen one example which is nearly exactly the same as that upon Giyorgis rock-hewn church, in Lalibela, to that in the UK, which is carved upon the farmhouse in which I live, beneath a window, in Weston, Cheshire, UK, which is over 5,000 miles away, and in a completely different continent!

The only difference really being that: instead of the cattle’s brow, in Ethiopia the bull’s horns are surmounted by a Christian cross; and where the three tassels exist eitherside of the horn’s beginnings, leaf shaped ears protrude, as the horns radiate outwards from the head; and the horns are carved upon a horizontal timber beneath what was a flanking window, to the left of the rear entrance, whereas in Ethiopia, they are formed above and from the window hood mould and carved surround.

The example in Weston, Cheshire, dates to the construction of Hollyhedge Farmhouse, this is verified by the same carving style which was used inside, upon richly carved console brackets to the original house-place / hall, and therefore were very likely to have been carved by the same person, with the farmhouse dating to the late 16th or the early 17th century.

The very similar example in Ethiopia also dates to when the church was carved out of and made out of the rock of which it is built, i.e. rather than it being built traditionally upon the ground, it is actually carved out of the solid rock below ground, and the building, and rooms inside, actually created out of the rock itself. The church dates to the 12th to 13th century AD.

The Bull’s Horns above a Window to Beta Giyorgis Rock-Hewn Church, 12th-13th Century AD, Lalibela

The Bull’s Horns insitu and in Diagram Form which exist below where a flanking window existed, and to the left of the Rear Entrance, at Hollyhedge Farm, Weston, Cheshire

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Compass Drawn Demon Traps

Compass drawn protective designs, made up of concentric or single circles, are essentially endless lines as all circles are, and act as demon traps, to ward off, confuse or entrap any evil forces. Circles were often thought to confuse demonic entities because they had no corners to hide in, and they would also follow the endless line over and over again eternally.

Often concentric or single circles have been drawn with the use of a compass, because in their centre there is often a circular depression where one point of the compass has rested, as the other point has rotated to incise the circle upon the timber or stone surface.

They are sometimes known as bull’s eyes and as such guard against the jealous and evil wishing eye. As other religious apotropaic devices, they ensure that they cleanse and cast out any malevolent forces the visitor / worshipper may have brought with them, keeping the religious building holy, and devoid of malevolence.

In Ethiopia, Vincent came across the following Compass Drawn Demon Trap at Mikael Imba rock-hewn church.

The Compass Drawn Demon Trap upon a Door to Mikael Imba Rock-Hewn Church, 8th Century AD, Tigray

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Scorch, Taper or Burn Marks

Scorch, Taper or Burn Marks, as they are known, are ritual protection marks, and exist in many historic timber-framed buildings, or timbers within historic stone buildings, and sometimes on timber doors of medieval churches. They are usually found near openings, such as doors, windows or fireplaces, but may also sometimes appear on timber members of internal walls or internal faces of external walls.

They have been made deliberately, sometimes over time, at certain times of the year, ritualistically, by the occupants, or sometimes before the building was even erected in the timber yard, or were already burned onto any timbers from another older building re-used when a new building was constructed.

They are made by charring the wood with a candle or taper, often the gouging out of the charred wood with a tool, and then the rubbing of them with the finger, to form a droplet or tear shape like groove, in a patient ritual.

These marks are a symbolic use of fighting fire with fire, but they are also thought to guard against lightning too, due to fire being a scary and common risk to the many timber built buildings of the historic past.

In the UK, it is thought that these protective marks were ritually burned over years, in some cases, at All Hallows, Christmas, or the feast of Candlemas, when candles held power, and blessed candles were available from churches, and thus used to guard against malevolent forces, in opposition to God.

They are usually found in multiples, but can sometimes be found singularly.

It is also thought that these apotropaic marks may have been burnt into timbers which existed in areas of shadow within rooms, where demonic forms may hide in the darkness.

In the UK, it was noted over time, that oak trees always seem to be attracted to lightning, and a ‘Lightning Oak’, an oak which has been struck by lightning was often seen as magical, with links to Thor, the Norse Thunder God. Often local people would cut away a small piece from the tree, and wear it as a talisman to protect them from evil and bring them luck.

This is also true to Ethiopian folk customs, any tree hit by lightning was seen as magical, and amulets made from the wood, which as in the UK’s past, were thought to protect them from evil and guard their buildings against fire.

Care must be taken when identifying burn or scorch marks on old timber-framed buildings, because sometimes death watch or woodworm insect holes upon the timbers have sometimes been treated with a solution which leaves a dark stain. Also sometimes they have been painted over, so they do not look blackened, but once you know the feeling of them to the finger, they are easily identifiable from their texture from the rest of the wood, as well as their droplet like appearance.

Vincent found burn marks at the following churches in Ethiopia:-

Burn Marks at Mikael Imba Rock-Hewn Church, 8th Century AD, Tigray

Painted out Burn Marks at the Timber Church of Abuna Aregawi, 6th Century AD, Debra Damo

A Series of Burn Marks to a Wall Timber at the Timber Church of Abuna Aregawi,
6th Century AD, Debra Damo

A Burn Mark to a Wall Timber at Yimrahanna Kristos Cave Church, Early 11th Century AD, Lalibela

A Burn Mark to a Door Threshold at Makina Medhane Alam Cave Church, 12th/13th Century AD

Burn Marks to a Door at Beta Giyorgis Rock-Hewn Church, 12th-13th Century AD, Lalibela

Burn Marks to a Carved Pillar Capital at Lideta Maryam Cave Church, 13th Century AD

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Criss-Cross, Chequerboard or Mesh Demon Traps

Incised and scratched criss-cross, chequerboard or mesh patterns were also employed in order to defeat demons by trapping them in their curious natures of their love of endless lines, supposedly imprisoned in an infinite game following the lines, or trapped inside the net or prison like mesh.

In Ethiopia, Vincent came across these examples of mesh pattern demon traps:-

Criss-Cross Incised Lines to a Door Lintel at Tcherqos Agabo Timber Church, 8th Century AD, Tigray

Although the above example is in a much similar vein to the Boundary or Saltire Cross, but without the diagonal lines forming an ‘X’, it has been added to the definition of a mesh like demon trap.

A Chequer Board or Mesh Pattern drawn over a painted Ethiopian Warthog at
Lideta Maryam Cave Church, 13th Century AD, Gennata Maryam

This mesh pattern has been deliberately drawn over a wall painting depiction of an Ethiopian Warthog. It has been deliberately placed over the animal’s head and eye, where a human would instantly look, and likewise any malevolent spirit trying to enter further into the holier places within the church, and especially drawn there, due to there being an internal window directly below.

A Modern Chalk Drawn Chequer Board to the Central Muntin of the LHS of a Double Door, along with other Chalk Graffiti at a building in Addis from circa 1880

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The Flower of Life

Another geometric design is similar to those apotropaic marks known as the daisy wheel, but is actually defined as a ‘hexfoil/hexafoil’, or as ‘the flower of life’.

Like other examples of geometric protective devices made up of endless lines; like Stars of David, pentagrams, or similar, daisy wheels, etc; these were thought to be demon traps, to ward off or confuse, or entrap those malevolent creatures.

Sometimes these daisy wheels or hexfoils are interconnected and form a sacred geometric shape; this is the case here, in Ethiopia, on a church door latch staple.

Here we see a hexagonal shape, which is made up of seven interconnecting hexfoils, or ‘flowers of life’. The shape is made up of multiple evenly spaced and overlapping circles and are arranged to form a flower petal like pattern with a sixfold symmetry. The hexagon and its seven interconnecting circles represent the seven days it took God to create the world. Six and Seven are sacred numbers and have many more sacred attributes.

The flower of life was considered perfectly formed of equal proportion and harmonious, and thought to be a form of divine enlightenment, and used as a circle to contain or create. It was known throughout the world to stonemasons, architects, philosophers, alchemists, occultists and artists. The Jewish Kabbalistic tree and its mysticism is also thought to be derived from the flower of life.

It is also the basis of what is known as ‘Metatron’s Cube’, a geometric shape from which all life springs, which has been used to ward off evil and malevolent forces for millennia.

The flower of life as well as that of the five pointed star, pentangle or pentagram, in some forms of mysticism, are connected with the boundaries between the spiritual body to that of the physical form, enclosing the spirit into the body, in a 3D infinite like interwoven shell, and hence whilst in a state of trance these boundaries may be dissolved, much like when knocked unconscious, many people say they saw stars.

On this example of the flower of life, the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, sacred to Judaism, can be superimposed upon the geometric shape, because you only need three overlapping hexfoils to contain it. The Star of David made up of two overlapping triangles representing both above and below, may also be superimposed on each of the seven hexfoils.

The Flower of Life on a Door Latch at Beta Giyorgis Rock-Hewn Church, 12th-13th Century AD, Lalibela

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The Goat of God

We have all heard of the ‘Lamb of God’, as a representation of Christ and his sacrifice for our sins, or the term ‘the sacrificial lamb’. Obviously this image used as a carving on buildings, especially religious edifices, is numerous, whether in stone or wood.

However, most will not have heard of the ‘Goat of God’, also a representation of Christ, and his sacrifice for our sins. Many will have come across the term ‘scapegoat’ which often appears in the Bible, but you may not have come across the term ‘the sacrificial goat’.

According to the Bible and the laws of Judaism, an offering to God to cleanse sins may be made by sacrificing a defect free bullock, goat or lamb, depending upon the sin(s). The bible has quite a few verses explaining how different characters atoned for their sins by offering up one, combinations or multiples of these animals.

Jesus who saves us from our sin, if we trust and believe in him and follow his teachings, offered up both: his body, as the ‘Lamb of God’, to abate the wrath of God and take away the sins of the world; and his blood, as the ‘Goat of God’, to symbolically be sprinkled upon the Holy of Holies, to cleanse our sins so that we might enjoy everlasting redemption.

This is revealed in the Book of Hebrews, Chapter 9, Verse 24-28, “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgement, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him,” and Chapter 9, Verse 11-12, “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”

To have this ‘Goat of God’ carving upon a Church door in Ethiopia, then it must symbolise the entering of the church for Christians, to remember that Christ has shed his blood inside, upon the altar or holy of holies, in order to grant them everlasting redemption from their sins, and therefore to be mindful of Christ’s sacrifice and to believe and trust in him and his teachings.

For those who ignore such a reminder from the Great Redeemer, that their souls will be cast down into the Pit, and as such, as a symbol of spiritual protection, it invokes the power of Christ, over any evil spirits trying to enter, reminding them that Christ will not sacrifice his blood for them, for they did not adhere to his teachings, or trust in him, and did not follow his example, so cannot access the holy space within, without inviting the wrath of Almighty God.

In Ethiopia there is a tradition of making goat figurines which are presented and sold to tourists.

The Goat of God on a Door at Yimrahanna Kristos Cave Church, Early 11th Century AD, Lalibela

A Clay Goat Figurine being presented by three Ethiopian Boys

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The Cross of Endlessness and Wind Chimes

Some of the churches in Ethiopia have weather type vanes upon their roofs, which include a symbol of the cross, known as the ‘Cross of Endlessness’ as well as wind chimes.

Although these are relatively modern devices compared to the majority of examples of spiritual protection we’ve found, they are still aspects of the warding off of evil.

The endless cross symbolises eternity, but also protection because it forms a never-ending line, and other shapes which are formed from a never-ending line were used as demon traps, to entrap any evil spirit or demon, etc, trying to enter a building, because it is thought that an evil entity would become infatuated with the puzzle, and end up transfixed forever. 

They also represent the Christian cross and hence Christ, so therefore invoke the protection of God.

The use of this type of cross with that of wind chimes and bells; which have been around since ancient China, Greece and Egypt, and examples have been found around the Mediterranean from 2000 BC; gives a double form of spiritual protection, of both a visual and audible nature. Wind chimes have been used for millennia to scare away evil spirits. Anyone may imagine a wind chime above a door or window that if brushed by an intruder, gives an immediate warning that danger is at hand. This is also true for intruders of the supernatural persuasion.

On another note, the chimes keep birds away from the church buildings, as well as other vermin, keeping the space clean and free from droppings and disease. They are also linked with good fortune and luck, as you could imagine, if in the past you are storing food or growing crops, these devices will keep the birds and pests away and therefore safeguard those stores or crops.

They are often hung around shrines, temples, sacred caves, etc, and were and are still thought to repel evil spirits and ghosts, as well as attract benevolent forces.

Here on rooftops of religious buildings in Ethiopia, they act as a dominant visual focus, drawing the eye to them, and that which is above, and as such would be undeniably noticed by any malevolent entity, as well as impossibly ignored if a weather storm is on its way.

The Cross of Endlessness and Wind Chimes Weather Vane at Debra Selam Mikael Timber Cave Church, 8th Century AD, Tigray

The Cross of Endlessness and Wind Chimes Weather Vane at the Timber Church of Abuna Aregawi, 6th Century AD, Debra Damo

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Iron Nails

Iron nails and other objects like horseshoes were used to ward off evil, because iron was long thought to be the enemy of the Devil and his demons.

Iron has long been the material weapons have been made out of, or a constituent part thereof. One of the daggers found in the tomb of Tutankhamun, had been forged from iron from an actual meteorite, what better weapon could you have against evil than one which fell from the heavens.

In the UK some medieval and later doors are decorated with iron studs, as well as forming decoration and giving strength, they also present evil forces with a barrier of iron, and hence are apotropaic.

In Ethiopia iron nails, studs and staples have not just been used on the doors for strength and to hold the different pieces together, but are in fact apotropaic.

Here is an example of a massive door to an Ethiopian Church with many iron staples protruding from its outer face.

Iron Staples to a Door at Mikael Imba Rock-Hewn Church, 8th Century AD, Tigray

Another door also has decorative iron studs holding a central muntin or strengthening rod, to the outer face of it, again to act as an iron barrier to demonic forces, as well as a geometric carved facade which will be dealt with on another page.

Iron Studs to a Door at Mikael Imba Rock-Hewn Church, 8th Century AD, Tigray

Another door to an Ethiopian Church also exhibits iron nail studs, and oddly they are arranged in three rows of exactly twelve studs (or to the middle row, in the past twelve, as some are missing, but their site may be verified as there are visible holes where they once sat).

This means that there were once 36 iron studs protruding from the door, in 3 sets of 12. From the numerology of these, we know that the Holy Trinity is represented by three, so the three rows may equate to this, and we also know that Christ had twelve main disciples. Thirty six on the other hand has many meanings, as well as forming a perfect sixfold square, symbolising perfection and true proportion, i.e. 6 times 6; it has many more religious and occult meanings. 36 times two also equates to 72, the supposed number of names of God, or the accepted number of major and minor disciples who followed Christ. It is also the angle in degrees between the points of a pentagram, as well as having many more sacred attributes.

So, therefore without a doubt we may conclude that these iron studs serve as a protective device against the evil which lurks in the outside world, as well as performing a function to the door and as decoration.

36 Iron Studs to a Door at Yimrahanna Kristos Cave Church, Early 11th Century AD, Lalibela

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Fleur de Lis

The Fleur de Lis is a symbol which represents the lily flower, and the name means ‘Flower of the Lily’. It has long been used as a decorative motif, as well as in heraldry, especially for the Royalty and Saints of the once Catholic France.

The Fleur de Lis is basically a lily composed of three petals which are bound together near to their bases, however it is essentially also a type of triskelion or triskele, a symbol consisting of three spiral like forms, which exhibit symmetry. As such it represents the number three, and therefore the Holy Trinity, i.e. the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

As well as the Holy Trinity, the Fleur de Lis was symbolic of the Christ, with it appearing in paintings of him, but slowly it instead became symbolic of the Virgin Mary, and associated with the ‘lily among thorns’ from the Song of Solomon, and hence invokes her protection. The Lily and its white flowers also symbolised the Virgin’s purity and chastity.

Here again in Ethiopia it most likely represents in its usage, the Christian religious theme of Mary and Jesus, as well as being an apotropaic device upon an archway’s decorative corbel or console bracket, dividing the holy spaces of the church.

Fleur De Lis Carvings upon Stone Corbels at Yimrahanna Kristos Cave Church, Early 11th Century AD, Lalibela

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Needless to say, as we are all aware, especially when viewing vampire films, crosses in their Christian symbolism are apotropaic.

In Ethiopia we have a number of crosses which are less than generic.

The first of which are actual church buildings, hewn and shaped both externally and internally from the rock itself, in the shape of a cross. The cross on the example below is also triple in nature, with three raised cross shapes (Greek Crosses) existing to its roof, indicative of the Holy Trinity.

As with European and British religious buildings, often they present in their sacred geometric architecture the shape of the cross, and hence Christ’s body, however, here we have a square shaped cross which is markedly different.

The Rock Hewn Cruciform Shaped Church at Beta Giyorgis Rock-Hewn Church, 12th-13th Century AD, Lalibela

This same church also has internally, crosses carved out of its stone ceiling, looking down upon the church’s occupants.

This therefore strongly ensures that no evil should ever enter its walls.

Carved Crosses to the Rock Cut Ceiling at Beta Giyorgis Rock-Hewn Church, 12th-13th Century AD, Lalibela

At Tcherqos Agabo timber church, we find a window with a cross shaped mullion and transom.

Cross to a Window at Tcherqos Agabo Timber Church, 8th Century AD, Tigray

Cross to Two Stone Windows at Beta Madhane Alem (Church of the Saviour of the World), 12th-14th Century AD, Lalibela

Cross to a Stone Window at Beta Madhane Alem (Church of the Saviour of the World), 12th-14th Century AD, Lalibela

Two Stone Cross Windows at Beta Mika’el (Church of Michael), 12th-14th Century AD, Lalibela

On a protruding timber beneath an arch, or at the terminal of an interrupted tie beam, is a console bracket with some decorative carving, including a stylised square cross.

Cross to a Protruding Timber or Interrupted Tie Beam Terminal Console Bracket at Tcherqos Agabo Timber Church, 8th Century AD, Tigray

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Knotwork Crosses and the Labyrinthine Meander

To some of the Ethiopian Churches visited, some displayed knotwork designs, much like those of the Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Viking cultures of Britain, but instead of curving interlocking lines, they are based upon geometric squares or rectangles, i.e. right angles, along with cross shapes included. These are also similar to Islamic type religious designs, but this type is most likely unique to Ethiopia.

Again the crosses ward off evil, but the knotwork patterns are also symbolic of endless lines, overlapping and weaving inside and outside of each other, and as such present a malevolent entity with not only the cross but also a never-ending puzzle, which it is thought would entrap the evil spirit for eternity, as it follows the endless lines.

A better term for these rectilinear knotwork geometric patterns used for spiritual defence, here in Ethiopia, is the ‘labyrinthine meander’, which is the term used to describe similar meandering designs on Greek and Roman buildings, pottery, mosaics, etc.

What better way to entrap a demon than to give it an endless series of meandering labyrinthic like lines, including crosses, for it to become eternally lost and confused in the elaborate and intricate maze like spiritual protective design.

A Labyrinthic Meandering with Crosses Apotropaic Window at Debra Selam Mikael Timber Cave Church, 8th Century AD, Tigray

A Curving Labyrinthic Meandering with Crosses Apotropaic Window at Yimrahanna Kristos Cave Church, Early 11th Century AD, Lalibela

Painted Labyrinthic Meandering Ceiling Design at Makina Medhane Alam Cave Church, 12th/13th Century AD

A Painted Labyrinthic Meandering Ceiling Design at Makina Medhane Alam Cave Church, 12th/13th Century AD

A Carved Labyrinthic Meandering with Crosses Apotropaic Door at Mikael Imba Rock-Hewn Church, 8th Century AD, Tigray

Carved Labyrinthic Meandering Panels to an Apotropaic Rood Screen or similar at Mikael Imba Rock-Hewn Church, 8th Century AD, Tigray

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The Swastika

Most of us by now know that the Swastika was an ancient religious symbol which Hitler and the Nazis stole from history, and turned it into a symbol synonymous with evil. This was a common practice with the Nazis, who as well as stealing the Swastika for their party symbol, also stole symbols from the Roman Army and Empire, as well as much else, including the skull and crossbones for their Gestapo, and the SS and other stolen Norse and Saxon Runic symbols.

However, the Swastika as a type of geometric cross was originally a symbol of the divine and spiritual world, as well as a good fortune symbol. The symbol goes far back in time, especially in Indian religions, from where it spread throughout the western world. It is often found in early Byzantine and Christian art, representing a cross or tetrakelion, a symmetrical four armed or legged shape.

In Hinduism if the arms of the Swastika are pointing: clockwise, it symbolises the sun, prosperity and good luck; whereas if they point anti-clockwise, it symbolises the night or the tantric aspects of one of their gods, Kali. However here in Ethiopia depending on whether you are inside or outside the building, it mirrors which way it faces.

The Swastika was also a symbol of Buddhism, as well as symbolising lightning, and as such is connected with the King of the Gods, i.e. Zeus in Greek mythology and Jupiter in Roman mythology.

So here in Ethiopia the stone Swastika barred window must represent a form of spiritual defence, and invoke the divine and spiritual aspect of the shape, and its Christian meaning.

A Stone Swastika Window at Beta Mika’el (Church of Michael), 12th-14th Century AD, Lalibela

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Pentacles of Protection

Pentacles are disc or circular shaped symbols, talismans or designs, which include protective symbols within, such as the Star of David, really the Seal of Solomon, triskelions or tetrakelions, criss-cross or mesh designs, some formed with central flowers, five and eight pointed stars, or crosses such as the Auseklis Cross, square geometric shapes, and hexfoils. Also in some pentacles Religious iconography is utilised, such as grapes being exhibited, which are symbolic of the Christ, for He is the vine and we are the branches, and as such we are united as brothers.

As protective devices they are usually made up of interlocking and endless lines, and therefore act as demon traps or protection for what lay within. In religious buildings they often appear on rood screens, or in wall paintings, which is also the case in Ethiopia, protecting different holy parts of the building, and the passage to and from those.

Some of the pentacle designs below with crosses, also adorn the priests religious robes.

The following example of pentacles upon panels upon a Rood Screen or similar installation, show a number of pentacles with a knotwork of endless lines, as well as crosses either easily apparent or hidden in plain sight.

Pentacle Panels to a Rood Screen or similar at Mikael Imba Rock-Hewn Church, 8th Century AD, Tigray

Painted Pentacles with Crosses to an Arch at Yimrahanna Kristos Cave Church, Early 11th Century, Lalibela

The above examples of pentacles depict the Christian cross but in the form known as a ‘Cross Cercelee’, which is a form of an expanded ‘Moline Cross’, and obviously protect the inner sanctum or the more holy areas of the church from any evil carried by humans into it.

These are similar in design to window tracery in Europe and Britain where cross shapes are sometimes separated by a heart shape between, a feature of many medieval churches, as well as those of a Knights Templar origin, where it is thought the heart shape represents the Holy Grail.

The example to the top looks like it is made up of four interconnected Fleur de Lis, which we have studied on another page on this website, where we stated that the symbol represented back in time, Christ, and then became more symbolic of The Virgin Mary, and her purity and chastity.

A Painted Pentacle with Cross on an Arch at Debra Selam Mikael Timber Cave Church, 8th Century AD, Tigray

This example of a cross within a pentacle is formed from a ‘Cross Moline’, which is made up of three straight strands on each arm, and is indicative of Christ as well as the Holy Trinity, and therefore serves as a spiritual device to protect the holier areas of the church from demonic attack.

Two Painted Pentacle with Seals of Solomon on Arches at Yimrahanna Kristos Cave Church, Early 11th Century Lalibela

The above painted pentacles depict inside them Seals of Solomon (Stars of David), or two triangles, one pointing to that which is above, and one pointing to that which is below, with a never-ending demon trapping knotwork circle surrounding, and again form protective devices. One also contains a floral pattern.

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A Plethora of Apotropaic Paintings

In the photograph below you will see a great many different painted apotropaic marks which decorate this Ethiopian Church, namely Yimrahanna Kristos cave church, dating to the early 11th century in Lalibela, looking down from every arch, wall panel and every ceiling panel upon the occupants.

They consist of pentacles, crosses of many types, flowers of life and labyrinthic meandering geometric shapes.

Yimrahanna Kristos Cave Church, Early 11th Century, Lalibela

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The Religious Artwork noticed on the Trip

Carved Wooden Ceiling Panels at the Timber Church of Abuna Aregawi,
6th Century AD, Debra Damo

The above carved wooden ceiling panels appear at the Timber church of Abuna Aregawi, Debra Damo, and from left to right, and top to bottom, they include: Two Giraffes eating from a tree, and in mirrored symmetry; four entwined goats?; a knotwork circle design with central curved diamond shapes; Two male Gazelles like creatures fighting with an infant, and tree knotwork; a knotwork cross; an Ox being attacked by an Ethiopian Wolf; A Gazelle biting its hind leg and infant; A Gazelle suckling an infant, and another biting its hind leg; a blank missing panel; a Winged creature, maybe a Griffin?; two deer like creatures with antlers; and two goats and an infant.

A Left Hand Printed on Stone at Tcherqos Rock-Hewn Church, 8th Century AD, Wukro

The above photograph depicts a human left hand which has been printed onto the stone, to form a yellow impression.

Typical Ethiopian Christian Art depicting the Last Judgement and God as the Holy Trinity, and the many aspects of St Michael, the Archangel, at Debra Selam Mikael Timber Cave Church, 8th Century AD, Tigray

The above photograph taken at Debra Selam Mikael timber cave church, shows typical Ethiopian Christian artwork, which often appears in churches upon walls, but also in Ethiopian religious texts. They are brightly coloured and certainly do catch the eye.

Notice all the faces are of African origin, which is similar to some early Coptic artwork, which shows the multi cultural true aspect of Christ, i.e. he is universal, and may be accepted by all creeds and nations, no matter what his actual skin colour really was.

The wall panels above those many aspects of St Michael (see below), show Christ as the Father, older, of African origin, but with white flowing hair and beard, in his triple aspect, with the Four Evangelists surrounding him, and at each corner.

However most of these figures are actually of St Michael, the Archangel, in his many aspects, portraying his traditional view, along with his heavenly articles, as well as those attributed to him in the Book of Revelation. In the multiple depictions of him: they show him holding a cross, and crowned, with halo, of both white, and green, and light, yellow and red, like a rainbow, with multi coloured costume, with censors burning incense at his feet, faces of him above, winged, multiple times; as well as him clothed below the chest, with a cloud, holding a sword; a full figure, holding in the right hand the sun, and in the left, the moon, again crowned and with a halo, with wings;  another full figure, crowned and with a halo, with wings, holding a cross surmounted lance, in the right hand, and a pair of scales representing justice, in the left; again a full figure, halo, wings and crowned, with a sword in the right hand, and a robe in the left; and again, clothed in a cloud, below the chest, with sword in right hand, winged, and with a halo; and above this, many depictions of him, crowned with halo, and linked in arms with the others, holding censors, of burning incense. All the figures present us with a rainbow coloured wall painting. The whole depiction, with God in his Trinity, and St Michael in numerous multiple guises, presents the viewer with a depiction of the Last Judgement.

The Madonna with Christ Child to the internal side of a Reliquary Cupboard Door at Debra Selam Mikael Timber Cave Church, 8th Century AD, Tigray

The above photograph depicts a reliquary cupboard door’s internal face, with a painted Madonna with Christ Child.

A Seated Ethiopian Christ between Two Pillars Wall Painting at Makina Medhane Alam Cave Church, 12th/13th Century AD

Upper Part of St Michael upon a Horse thwarting the Devil with a Lance Wall Painting at Makina Medhane Alam Cave Church, 12th/13th Century AD

The above wall painting shows St Michael, the Archangel, winged and with a halo, with a lance in his right hand, piercing the horned Devil below, upon a Red Horse. Notice the colour of St Michael’s face is redder than his hands and neck, and the same as the horse. This is indicative of the fire of divinity, for he holds the mighty flame of the fire of God, and is seated upon the fiery horse of heaven, because usually the horse is also depicted as having wings, in the Orthodox Church.

Christ upon his Heavenly Throne surrounded by the Four Evangelists Wall Painted Dome at Makina Medhane Alam Cave Church, 12th/13th Century AD

An Ethiopian Warthog Wall Painting at Lideta Maryam Cave Church, 13th Century AD, Gennata Maryam

A Camel Wall Painting at Lideta Maryam Cave Church, 13th Century AD, Gennata Maryam

A Group of White Faced Priests with Crosses, as well as a shocked, hands in exclamation, dark faced figures Wall Painting at Lideta Maryam Cave Church, 13th Century AD, Gennata Maryam

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