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Date: probably 18th-20th century
Medium:Cast brass alloy
Geographic Location: Ethiopia
Dimensions: Overall: 17 x 11 3/4 in. (43.18 x 29.84 cm)
Credit Line: Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Dr. Hebe Redden and Dr. Kenneth Redden
Object Number: 1991.352.40

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Priests of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church carry large brass crosses hung with colorful cloths during the Timkat (Epiphany) festival. Lalibela, Ethiopia, 1999. ©Dave Bartruff/CORBIS




Encouraging Dialogue
1. Look for shapes and designs in the intricate metalwork of this cross. 
2. How does this cross differ from other crosses you have seen? How are they similar?
3. Consider the various symbols and instruments used in Christianity and other religions. Make a list and discuss the significance and ceremonial functions of each.
4. Why are symbols and icons important for representing cultural beliefs about religion, politics, and other ideas? What is their purpose and how are they be used?
Making Connections
1. Compare the elaborate patterns of this Processional Cross to the patterns and metalwork that surround the figure of Manjusri.
2. Research the history of Christianity in Africa and create a map which shows the dates and locations of its spread. Though the emergence of Christianity in Ethiopia began locally with the establishment of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, in much of Africa it was spread from a colonizing power through coercion or force. What ethical boundaries should guide the spread of a religion? Expand your research to include the study of other religions expanding throughout history. 
3. The poem “White Man's Burden” by Rudyard Kipling criticizes the missionary justifications for colonialism. Research the history of Christianity in Africa, read the poem and write an essay which compares and contrasts Kipling's vision of religious colonialism with historical accounts.
4. Conduct a Google search for images of religious symbols. Extend your search of images to include works of art in which these symbols appear. Consider the Christian cross, the Star of David, Rosary beads, and the eight Buddhist symbols. As you search for images, research the origins of these symbols. Create a visual presentation and comparison of these symbols, their origin, and their meanings. 
5. In groups, research a particular religious or sacred structure from the list provided. Create a presentation with images that shows how artistic elements such as painting, sculpture, inlay, etc. were used to decorate the space. Discuss the effect of these decorations. Potential structures: The Hanging Church (Cairo), Notre Dame Cathedral (Paris), Hagia Sophia (Istanbul), Temple of Heaven (Beijing), Angkor Wat (Angkor), Dome of the Rock (Jerusalem).
6. Edward Said's criticism is often focused on describing the ways in which popular European novels which have no overt connection with colonialism paint scenarios which are directly reliant upon the spoils of colonialism (for instance, Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, in which one of the characters earns his fortune from a plantation in Antigua). Have your students study a book written during a European country's colonial period and write an essay describing the ways in which its plot, characters, or setting are influenced by its colonial heritage.


Reference Books:
Di Salvo, Mario. Crosses of Ethiopia: The Sign of Faith: Evolution and Form. Milan: Skira; New York: Distributed in North America by Rizzoli International, 2006.
Ethiopian Art: The Walters Art Museum. Lingfield, Surrey: Third Millennium, 2001.
Heldman, Marilyn Eiseman. African Zion: The Sacred Art of Ethiopia. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.
Walker, Roslyn A. The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009.
Books for Students:
Araujo, Frank P. Li, Xiao J. The Perfect Orange: A Tale from Ethiopia. Rayve Productions, Incorporated, 1994.
Courlander, Harold. Leslau, Wolf. Kane, Robert. Fire on the Mountain And Other Stories from Ethiopia and Eritrea. Holt, Henry & Company, Inc., 1995.
Englar, Mary. Ethiopia: A Question and Answer Book. Coughlan Publishing, 2005.
Gish, Steven. Cultures of the world – Ethiopia. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2007.
Heinrichs, Ann. Enchantment of the world (Second) – Ethiopia. Children’s press, 2005.
Mezlekia, Nega. Notes from the Hyena’s Belly – An Ethiopian Boyhood. Picador, 2002.
Learn more about Coptic Christianity. 
Learn facts about Africa’s geography and ethnic groups on this Web site from the California Academy of Sciences. 
View works of art up close and learn more about African life by visiting this Web site from the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
This resource includes an Ethiopian processional cross image with a description and explanation.
This resource contains a history of African Christianity in Ethiopia.
This timeline gives a history of Africa through its art.
Find out more about the diversity of African art by visiting the National Museum of African Art’s Web site. 
This collection contains several Ethiopian processional crosses from different centuries.




Many works of art seen in museums have a religious or ceremonial significance that may not be readily apparent or easily understood.  Because many of the beliefs, values, and traditions associated with these objects are complex or unfamiliar, teaching about these objects can be challenging.  In a diverse and global world, it is important to maintain a high level of cultural sensitivity in the classroom and to promote cultural literacy.  Presented here are several guidelines for teaching about the beliefs, values, and traditions related to these works of art in a sensitive and respectful manner.


  1. Consider the Museum Setting

Remember that these objects were not originally intended to be displayed in museums and many served utilitarian as well as aesthetic functions.  Some objects were never meant to be preserved and others were only supposed to be seen by a small, elite group within the source culture.  These issues make it all the more important for educators to provide relevant contextual information surrounding these objects.  Older students can consider the ethical implications of the placement of these objects in museums, from the colonial expansions that encouraged their acquisition to the educational benefits of publicly accessible art.


  1. Provide Context and Narrative

When discussing works that carry a religious or ceremonial significance, it is important to consider the original context in which the object would have been used.  Where appropriate, emphasize that many of the ceremonies and religions studied are living traditions that are still practiced today.  Additionally, providing a narrative through contextual storytelling engages students in learning about a culture or religion different from their own in a nonthreatening way. 


Equally important to context is geography.  Emphasize the diversity of the continents and encourage students to remember that Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas are made up of many countries and cultures.  A great starting point is to locate where students live on a world map and then locate the country or region from which the artwork comes. 


  1. Use Inclusive Language

Use language that is inclusive, and avoid indicating your own cultural or religious biases.  By remaining neutral, all backgrounds can be respected and no one treated like an outsider.  Avoid setting up a dichotomy of “us” and “them” when discussing these cultures and arbitrary categories such as “western” and “non-western.”  Instead, be specific, and categorize the objects by country or religion.  Specificity steers students away from the trap of oversimplifying diverse continents such as Asia or Africa into homogenous regions that serve as the “other” of the “western” world.


  1. Carefully Select Vocabulary

When discussing works of art with cultural and religious significance, avoid terms that carry a derogatory tone or that have typically been used to disparagingly describe works of art from other cultures.  Avoiding loaded terms will discourage a value hierarchy between cultures and encourage both unbiased accuracy and sensitivity.  Examples include: idol, myth, tribe, artifact, fetish, primitive, non-western, etc.  This list is in no way exhaustive or without exception, and it is important to select words carefully when referring to various cultures or religions. 

Insensitive vocabulary is sometimes compounded by the fact that there may not be English equivalents for the names of religions, belief systems, or peoples from other cultures (i.e. many of the belief systems practiced by various peoples throughout Africa).


  1. Avoid Decontextualizing Activities

Remember that religious and ceremonial objects have a very specific purpose and their own cultural context.  Avoid the inclination to design open-ended, “make your own” exercises where the objects are directly appropriated and removed from their context.  (i.e. make your own Hindu god or African spirit)  Keep in mind how certain activities could be viewed as disrespectful or even blasphemous by peoples from the culture being studied. 


  1. Find Common Connections

Humans throughout time and all over the world share a fundamental unity of experiences that reflect common concerns, instincts, and desires.  We all seek to understand the world and our place within it.  Universal themes and commonalities may be found among diverse peoples.  Invite students to search for meaningful connections between the culture studied and his/her own.  While honoring a common human experience, also encourage students to embrace particular nuances and maintain the integrity of differences of each culture or religion.  Understanding both similarities and differences between cultures allows students to be more compassionate, culturally sensitive, and literate. 


  1. Consider the Study of Cultures

In the last century, scholarship regarding Asian and African cultures and their associated religions and practices has expanded immensely.  Information that was once scarce or obscure is now more accessible than ever and can provide greater understandings about the art and culture of these peoples. European and American art making and record keeping mostly emphasize the individual artist or artistic movement.  This may differ from standards in African and Asian cultures.  Consider the role art plays in various cultures, why makers may or may not be identified, how record keeping varies, and why some cultures emphasize certain aspects of objects and their history over others. 




Breuilly, Elizabeth, and Joanne O’Brien, Martin Palmer, Martin E. Marty. Religions of the World: The Illustrated Guide to Origins, Beliefs, Traditions, and Festivals. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2005.


Eck, Diana L. On Common Ground: World Religions in America. Columbia University Press, 2006. 


Mbiti, John. African Religion and Philosophy (African Writers), 2nd sub edition. Hinemann, 1992.


Nash, Robert. Teaching Adolescents Religious Literacy in a Post-9/11 World.  Information Age Publishing, 2009.


Prothero, Stephen.  God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter.  Harper One, 2010.


Prothero, Stephen.  Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know-- and Doesn’t.  San Francisco: Harper, 2007.


Ray, Benjamin. African Religions: Symbol, Ritual, and Community, 2nd edition. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:Prentice-Hall, Inc., 2000.


Said, Edward.  Orientalism. Vintage Books, 1979.


“A Teacher’s Guide to Religion in the Public Schools”