Tekle, Afewerk

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"The painting's title, "Demera," comes from the bonfire depicted near the center of the image. A bonfire, called the Demera, is one of the central events in the Ethiopian Orthodox festival of Maskal, which commemorates the Finding of the True Cross. The origins of the celebration are expressed in the Ethiopian manuscript of parchment. It is said to date back to the discovery of the Byzantine Queen Helena of the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified.

According to the manuscript, in the 20th year of the reign of her son Constantine, she set off for Jerusalem in search of the ‘life giving cross,’ which she eventually found after many trials and tribulations. Helena is said to have found the Cross by lighting incense and following the smoke as it descended to earth. She caused bonfires to be lit on the hills of Palestine which could be seen across the sea by the people of Constantinople.

So how did the rediscovered cross come to Ethiopia? The Christian Kings of Ethiopia were often called upon in the early Middle Ages to protect Egyptian Copts against the Egyptian Muslims. In return for this delivery from Muslim persecution, fabulous gifts of precious gold were offered to Ethiopian Emperor Dawit. He rejected these offerings and asked instead for four pieces of the True Cross, which were under the custody of the patriarch of Alexandria. The request was granted and the pieces brought to Ethiopia. They were guarded on the journey by torchbearers and then deposited in a church at Gishen, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Rejoicing followed throughout the whole country and the Emperor ordered that the capes of the priests be embroidered with flowers. Since that day, Ethiopian Christians are believed to have commemorated the occasion with flaming torches and huge bonfires. "[from A. Davey's notes on Flickr.]

Artist:Tekle, Afewerk
Building:National Museum
City/Town:Addis Ababa

Lectionary links:BHoCr
General Subject:Finding of the True Cross

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Copyright Permission:This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial ShareAlike 3.0 License. In short: you are free to use and to share the file for non-commercial purposes under the conditions that you appropriately attribute it, and that you distribute it only under a license compatible with this one. For uses other than the above, contact the Divinity Library at
Attribution:Tekle, Afewerk. Demera, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved May 31, 2020]. Original source:
Record Number:54385 Last Updated: 2012-04-08 18:04:05 Record Created: 2010-10-15 18:28:57
Institution:Vanderbilt University Unit: Collection: Art in the Christian Tradition

Bibliographic Source:Lion Companion to Christian Art
Author:Brown, Michelle
Publisher:Oxford: Lion