The EHF, with local heritage bodies, aims to build a comprehensive database of painted churches, serving as a tool for their future monitoring, conservation and protection. A further aim is to stimulate tourism to more churches, thereby reducing pressure on already over-visited sites and extending economic benefits to remote communities.
Wall paintings are being lost from the churches of Tigray at an alarming rate. Natural deterioration is a longstanding reason for this, but there are also newer threats. Paintings are damaged or destroyed when old churches are replaced with new buildings. Well-meaning but misguided local attempts at renovation have the same outcomes. Protective oversight and regular maintenance are lacking. Establishing a comprehensive record of the paintings and raising awareness of their conservation requirements are therefore urgently required. These are the primary aims of this 2-year project. In October 2019, the EHF, working with the TCTB and ARCCH, initiated the survey, which encompassed 15 churches in the regions of Adigrat, Atsbi, Sinkata, Gheralta and Mekelle. Churches were identified through research of archival records and by consulting local people. At each site, comprehensive photographic records were made. Paintings were investigated using portable microscopy and multi-spectral imaging, and small paint samples were taken for analysis. This will provide the most in-depth technical assessment yet undertaken. The survey is timely. Survey findings indicate that about 19% of all known wall paintings in Tigray have disappeared in the last 50 years; half of this amount has been lost in the last 5 years.