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The Ancient Church of Kidane Mehret

The ancient Church of Kidane Mehret is one of the few Churches that possess the original style of construction known as re’ssi hibey (monkey head) technique. In Eritrea monkey head technique was the most characteristic structural method before and after the Medieval Period. This type of edifice is made up of stone clay masonry of small rough stones and the walls are consolidated at narrow intervals with long squared timbers and held by short round cross pieces of olive woods, the end of which becomes visible as rows of protruded and smoothly rounded re’ssi hibey. This kind of construction technique is observed on different sites stretching far and wide from the ancient port of Adulis to the highlands of Quohaito, Metera and even the Church of Kidane Mehret.

There are two distinct types of churches and monasteries associated with Medieval Period. They are rectangular as well as round churches. Rectangular churches are the most frequent and seem to be more ancient. The Church of Kidane Mehret is from the rectangular types. The three arched doors of the Church’s Qedest (the inner room) are completely devoid of paintings. At present only the entrance of the Meqdes is adorned with the images of Angels and the other are fading with time.

Eritrean religious paintings are rich and diversified. The paintings represent sacred personalities and saints and sometimes donors are also portrayed prostrating at the bottom of the wall paintings. Most of the artistic works adhering this period consisted of geometrically intricate ornaments literally know as fish wing, which are curved into woods, combining utility and artistic beauty. The ceiling of the corridor is covered with geometrically intertwined wooden planks.

The edifice of the Church of Kidane Mihret has remarkable style of window and doors. They are made of timbers fitted each other and without nails but with shallow recesses and projections. The doors and windows are made of a single opening and are further curved and into three beautifully interwoven polygonal frames that have religious connotations to symbolize the Trinity. This ancient Eritrea style which some may claim its origin from the other side of the Red Sea has no resemblance (except in northern Ethiopia) to any style of architecture. Even though the style of construction “antique Eritrea” has been affected by successive invasions and inevitable influences, we still have some examples preserved and the people in the areas continue to build their hidmos  (traditional houses) in almost the same way.

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