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SEEING IS BELIEVING: THE POWER OF VISUAL CULTURE IN THE RELIGIOUS WORLD OF AŞE ZÄR'A YA'EQOB OF ETHIOPIA (1434-1468)

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The prevailing image of Zär'a Ya'eqob has tended to emphasize the intellectual at the expense of the experiential and political power at the expense of religious power. It is to these relatively neglected aspects of religious life that this article is devoted. It is our purpose here to emphasize the importance of the Cross, the image of the Virgin, the construction of churches and other visual aspects of religious life in Zär'a Ya'eqob's Ethiopia. No other Ethiopian ruler confronted the religious challenges presented by a divided Church and a largely unChristianized empire as systematically and as successfully as Zär'a Ya'eqob. Moreover, he was as sensitive to the daily unspoken truths of religious life as he was to great theological debates and controversies. He understood power in all its manifestations and sought to protect his state, his church, and his people with every means at his disposal. By promoting devotion to both the Cross and the Virgin Mary, he built on the foundations prepared by his parents, especially his father Dawit. He also mobilized Christian symbols which transcended local rivalries and regional loyalties. These symbols, as well as the churches he built, were also particularly suited to visual representation and hence comparatively easy to propagate among Ethiopia's largely illiterate population. They were, moreover, effective instruments of divine power, which brought home not only the message of Christianity's truth, but also its efficacy in the face of the numerous threats that Christians faced on a daily basis.

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/content/journals/10.1163/157006602321107621
2002-12-01
2015-01-30

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