The Church of Yimrhane Kristos : An Archaeological Investigation

Abstract: The purpose of this thesis is to augment our understanding of the Church of Yimrhane Kristos, and the Lasta period in which it was built, from the study of a variety of source materials. Due to the fact that the Lasta period suffers from the absence of adequate and reliable literary sources, this study largely depends on the elements of historic buildings as the basic data source. Using archaeometric methods, samples of timber, plaster, and pigments taken from the Church of Yimrhane Kristos and other associated buildings were analyzed to establish a scientific basis for the dates of, and materials used in, the edifices. The available written sources, including the Life of St. Yimrhane Kristos, were compared and collated with the scientific results, prompting new insights into the Church of Yimrhane Kristos that have larger implications for the Lasta period. The radiocarbon-based data analyses reveal that the church and palace of Yimrhane Kristos were contemporaneous, dating to between the 11th and 12th centuries. The portable altar and the treasury box in the Church of Yimrhane Kristos are confirmed to have the same age. The church of Emmekīna Medhanē Alem is dated to between the 12th and 13th centuries. It is shown that the church and the palace of Yimrhane Kristos used the same plaster component, gypsum, and they are found in their original status and integrity. The wood anatomy analysis confirmed that cedar was used to construct the Church of Yimrhane Kristos. The technical analysis of samples revealed the use of a rich palette of expensive mineral pigments in the decorative paintings of the Church of Yimrhane Kristos. The use of precious metals for decoration purpose is evidenced in the metal studded main entrance door of the church.The scientific results, crosschecked with the surviving literary materials, have implications for the chronology of the reign of Yimrhane Kristos and the Lasta period more broadly. It is suggested that the Lasta period commenced during the second half of the 10th century and Yimrhane Kristos ruled between the late 1080s and the early 1130s. Corroboration of sources also shows that Ethiopian relations with the outside world during the Lasta period were largely confined to Egypt and, to a lesser extent, the Holy Land, the main motive being religion.This study has highlighted reliable aspects in terms of the history of Lasta period in the Life of St. Yimrhane Kristos, as the scientific results of the chronology and the use of cedar in the Church of Yimrhane Kristos confirm the accounts the hagiography provides. There is also collaboration in certain respects between the Life and 11th and 12th century Coptic documents, the land grant notes, and inscriptions on portable altars. This has led to the assumption that certain parts of the Life might be derived from a 12th century account, probably a chronicle of the king.

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