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Mikael Muehlbauer

“‘Bastions of the Cross’: Medieval Rock-Cut Cruciform Churches of Tigray, Ethiopia”

Mikael Muehlbauer

Columbia University, Byzantine Studies Junior Fellow

For the description: Muehlbauer’s research project is a comparative study of the only three centralized plan/cruciform churches in Ethiopia dating to the medieval period. Locating these buildings in the mid-11th century, he reconstructs the patronage of an Ethiopian rump state or chieftaincy, based in eastern Tigray, which was engaged in close contact with Fatimid Egypt. He proposes that unique plan of these churches was meant to evoke, in a localized fashion, architectural elements of late antique prestige architecture in Egypt and Byzantium. The churches however, exhibit experimental elements such as barrel vaulting and modular spatial hierarchy, elements not found in Ethiopia prior to their construction. He suggests that in reinventing prestigious architecture from late antiquity, replete with novel architectonics, early medieval Ethiopia was placing itself in dialogue with both its own late antique past, but also the ecumenism of the Eastern Roman Empire and most importantly their contemporary benefactor and ally: Fatimid Egypt.

Mikael Muehlbauer is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University. He received his BA from Queens College CUNY in 2014 and MA and MPhil from Columbia University in art history. Muehlbauer’s research broadly concerns medieval cross-cultural interactions as articulated through architecture and luxury textiles, specifically in the Islamicate eastern Mediterranean and Indian Ocean. His research has appeared or is forthcoming in West 86th and Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians.