E

thiopia ......
Geralta and the Rock-
Hewned Churches
Abraha we Abstbeha Church
- Easter Mass
Mariam Korkor Church
- Good Friday
Yohanas Maequdi Church
- Good Friday
In March, my brother Tad came to visit Ethiopia.  He spent two weeks in the Shimelba refugee camp while I had to work.  Over the Ethiopian Easter
weekend we traveled to the southern Tigray Region near the regional capital, Mekele.  About 50 km north of the capital is rocky terrain that looks like it
came straight out of a spaghetti western.  Hidden high in the buttes are rock-hewed churches.  These churches were built before the 11th century to
avoid the burning rampages from the Falasha queen, Gudit who acted out of revenge after Christians nobles killed her husband and Muslim raids.  The
Ethiopian Orthodox Christian monks carved churches high into the cliffs.  It is said that these are the precursor to the celebrated rock-hewed churches
found in Lalibella.  This is also the area that suffered so much during the 1984 famine.  Mengistu, the leader of Ethiopia at the time, was trying to starve
out the rebellion in the north which had considerable support from the Tigrinian peasants.  As he is quoted "If you want to catch a fish ..... dry the pond."
On Saturday evening we celebrated
Easter mass which started at 10pm
and ended at 4am.  As I am not one
for mass..... it was a bit long.  But it
was also fascinating as the monks
chanted all night in a candle lit atrium
with men on one side and women on
the other.  Throughout the night their
was a slew of activity.  While the
monks beat drums and methodically
chanted in the back of the church, at
any point a deacon or priest would
begin to read a passage from the bible
as people hudled around them. The
kids fooled around with the candles,
nudged each other, laughed and
chatted while nuns snapped at them to
be quite.  Everyone was supposed to
stay awake through out the mass but
as night lingered on people quickly
dozed off sprawling over each other.  
Finally around 3 am the priest dressed
in red and gold robes meandered
through the church towards the alter
carrying brilliantly decorated cross.  
People flocked to them to kiss the
base of the cross until they reached
the alter.  At the same time another
priest sprinkled holy water over
people's heads.  At the alter the head
priest made a quick sermon.  It was
soon finished and everyone went
home to break their 50 day fast.  
Breaking the fast with cups of coffee
Tsion Church
- Holy Saturday
As usual, Tad and I went to Geralta without much of a plan.  We figured it would all work-out.  When we arrived in Wukro, the town that opens into
the area, it looked pretty bleak.  No one was giving us much help.  We decided that we would go to the first town, Abreha Absteba, to see the
church and ask around about visiting churches high in the cliffs.  Fortunately we asked the right person for directions.  He was an elderly man fixing
his fence.  It turned out that he was a priest in the church and that his son, a deacon, was home from school for the holiday.  They offered to guide
us to the churches.  They even asked if we would like to celebrate Easter at their homestead.......of course we took up the offer!

It was a fantastic holiday.  Good Friday and holy Saturday were spent climbing up the buttes and visiting churches.  On Good Friday it was
specifically special as the churches were filled with worshipers genuflecting to the sermon mount.   
Market before Easter
hitching in the back of a truck