The northern façade of the Church of Yemrehanna Kristos. Seen here within the cave which houses it
Image credit Stephen Battle/World Monuments Fund
Martin Bailey, writing in The Art Newspaper, reports that a team of British conservators will help preserve Ethiopia’s oldest wall paintings. The paintings are in the twelfth century Church of Yemrehanna Kristos in Northern Ethiopia –
A project to conserve Ethiopia’s oldest wall paintings, which experts believe date to around 1100 or soon after, is due to begin this month. They are in the church of Yemrehanna Kristos, a full-sized building constructed inside a cave in the Lasta Mountains at an altitude of 2,700m. The cave is above a valley of juniper trees and, until recently, could only be reached by a day’s journey on foot or mule from the town of Lalibela, in northern Ethiopia. The church’s interior is so dark that international specialists did not note the paintings’ existence until the 1990s; the first published account was in 2001.
The London-based Ethiopian Heritage Fund, with support from the World Monuments Fund, is undertaking the project. The conservation team consists of two British specialists, Lisa Shekede and Stephen Rickerby; the latter describes the paintings as being in a “highly vulnerable and threatened condition”.
The initial investigation will include in-situ microscopy, along with ultra-violet and infra-red examinations. Paint samples will be tested, partly to determine the original pigments and media used and to identify added materials. There will be small-scale cleaning trials, to test which materials should be used. Monitoring sensors will be installed to record temperature and humidity changes. A separate team from the University of Cape Town will undertake a laser scan survey to create a three- dimensional data model of the church and cave, to map structural movement.