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Ethiopian icons feature saints and biblical scenes

  • St. Anthony's Catholic Cathedral in Emdibir is covered in Ethiopian-style iconography.
  • An Orthodox priest begs alms outside the Maryam church Entoto Hill, near Addis Ababa.
  • A prayer card features images of Orthodox saints.
  • Local and regional buses, whether Orthodox or Catholic, are full of Christian stickers.
  • Bole Medhane Alem Orthodox Cathedral, one of several in Addis Ababa
  • Kidane Mihret Catholic church, Addis Ababa: The grounds include a school and children's home.
  • American artist Warner Sallman's Head of Christ finds a place in Kidane Mihret Catholic church in Addis Ababa, perhaps an outcome of the migration of many educated Ethiopians back and forth from the US and Europe.
  • Sacred Heart Altar, Kidane Mihret Catholic church, Addis Ababa. A legacy of European missionaries has made the Sacred Heart a popular image not only in Catholic churches, but also in varied ways among Ethiopian Orthodox Christians in the city.
  • Men pray at the back of Mass in the traditional Ethiopian fashion by standing with the aid of a prayer staff throughout the liturgy. Staffs are kept int he back of the church for those who need them.
  • Nativity Cathedral, Addis Ababa
  • Crosses and religious goods for sale on the streets of Addis Ababa, for Orthodox and Catholics alike.
  • Posters for sale on the street of Addis Ababa
  • A young man in the Gurage region of Ethiopia. Simple wooden crosses of designs like this are fairly typical to wear.
  • Religious articles in a family car in the lot of a Catholic church, Addis Ababa
  • Catholic chapel at a convent school, Addis Ababa.
  • St. George, a ubiquitous brand of beer, complete with the image of St. George slaying the dragon.
  • At St. Raguel, one of the oldest Orthodox churches in Addis Ababa, two images of the equestrian saints, a popular theme of saintly protectors against evil in Ethiopian Orthodoxy.
  • Virgin and Child with Angels in a traditional style, St. Raguel Orthodox church, Addis Ababa
  • In St. Ragael's Orthodox Church, the images of the Father and the crucifixion over the central entrances to the sanctuary.
  • Traditional Ethiopian Orthodox iconography of Jesus, Martha, Mary, and the raising of Lazarus
  • A triptych of the crucifixion in traditional Ethiopian Orthodox iconographic style.
  • The main altar and screen at St. Anthony's Catholic Cathedral in Emdibir, Ethiopia: Unlike most Catholic churches in Ethiopia, This one follows Orthodox cues for decoration and enclosure of the sanctuary.
  • St. Anthony's Catholic Cathedral in Emdibir, Ethiopia, which follows Ethiopian Orthodox cues for decoration.
  • St. Anthony's Catholic Cathedral in Emdibir, Ethiopia
  • St. Anthony's Catholic Cathedral in Emdibir, Ethiopia
  • Jesus' baptism, St. Anthony's Catholic Cathedral in Emdibir, Ethiopia
  • Adam and Eve are banished from the garden in this iconographic mural at St. Anthony's Catholic Cathedral in Emdibir, Ethiopia.
  • A devil at St. Raguel Orthodox church: Unlike other evil personages in Ethiopian iconography, the devil shows both eyes, but his evil status is clear.
  • St. Anthony's Catholic Cathedral in Emdibir, Ethiopia

Icons, drawn in a distinctive Ethiopian style, are central to the visual culture of Ethiopian Orthodoxy. These depict a number of saints, both Ethiopian and from other Orthodox traditions, along with biblical scenes. Madonna and Child images often feature prominently. In the 20th century, Ethiopian Orthodox Church architecture and religious images were borrowed more explicitly from Europe. 

The style of representation in Ethiopian Orthodox iconography makes it easy to distinguish good from evil characters. With few exceptions, evil characters are often shown in a profile with only one eye visible, whereas holy characters are always shown with two eyes visible.

Catholic images borrow from both Ethiopian and European ones. The cathedral of Addis Ababa was recently redecorated to update the Ethiopian iconographic style, while other Catholic churches borrow primarily from European styles.

The result is that an image on a bumper sticker, window decal, inside a church, or on an icon is seldom an immediate indicator whether the image is Orthodox or Catholic. But whether Orthodox or Catholic (and given the demographics, the vast majority is Orthodox), Christian religion is often visible in public settings, whether in the form of crosses worn or images on buses, cars and trucks.

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Footnotes