Completed Project

Kidane-Mehret Church

Senafe, Debub, Eritrea

The Church of Kindane-Mehret is a rare representation of Eritrean religious architecture dating to the Axumite Empire (A.D. 100-700). The church was in continuous use until the 1970s when a new church was built to replace it just a few meters away. The roof of the old Kindane-Mehret Church collapsed in 1997 and little had been done to protect the building from the elements since that time. The structure began to deteriorate rapidly as a result of weathering and the accumulation of the waste of birds and rodents. The remaining roof beams began to rot, thus endangering the structural integrity and destroying interior decorations.

2006 World Monuments Watch

After the inclusion of the site on the 2006 World Monuments Watch, WMF secured funding from the Annenberg Foundation to undertake conservation work at the site. The project team analyzed wooden elements of the structure, replaced rotted sections, and reconstructed the roof. A second phase of work replaced doors and windows that had disappeared, utilizing traditional materials and fabrication methods. Although harvesting of the juniper wood in the country is forbidden, the National Museum of Eritrea secured a special permit to collect the quantity needed to complete the restoration of missing elements. Work was completed in July 2007, and since then the Senafe community has returned the church to active use as a place of worship.

The Kidane-Mehret Church represents a traditional building style of the area known as “monkey head.” This style dates to the Axumite Empire (A.D. 100-700) and was used for both religious buildings and prestigious residences. The name originates from the round ends of the wooden dowels used in construction of the supporting walls, which poke out of the exterior walls and look like little monkeys. Kindane-Mehret is the only authentic example of this style to survive. The frames of the door and windows are noteworthy in that no nails were used to keep them together. The project also included the creation of a crafts training program for local workers in order to revive the lost techniques of the “monkey head” style.

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