Made with everything from plain wood to priceless gold, the ornate Christian crosses characteristic of Ethiopia are not only the country’s most widely displayed religious icons, but also – in smaller, hand-held form – perhaps the most popular souvenirs with tourists. Ethiopian crosses come in several different styles, the best known being named after Lalibela, Aksum and Gondar, the cities from which the design derives. On the whole, they are far more elaborately decorated and intricately worked than any cross associated with other Christian denominations – many larger crosses boast complex lattices of curves and lines symbolizing the nature of eternity or the intertwined divine and human facets of Jesus’s nature. The most elaborate adorn the roofs or exteriors of many churches, and treasuries of heavy old gold and silver crosses are stashed away in many of the north’s more historic churches.
For souvenirs, the small and relatively unadorned wooden crosses that many locals wear around their neck can easily be bought at any handicraft stall or market as can the small- to medium-sized metal crosses whose square bases fit snugly into the hand.