E
thiopia
Under one God
Ethiopia is considered a Christian
country even though Christians only
make 35-40% of the population with 45-
55% Muslims and the remainder
Animist.  Needless to say the
monotheistic history is vast starting with
a lost sect of Jews, the Falasha, who
came during the Queen of Sheba’s reign
around 950 BC.  
By 300 AD, Copts from Syria converted
the emperor of Axum to Christianity,
which over time and isolation became a
unique form of orthodox Christianity.  
During Mohammed’s persecution in
Arabia, his family and followers came to
Ethiopia for refuge before returning to
Medina.
Unfortunately years
after his death with
the Muslim
expansion, Muslims
and Christians fought
bitterly burning
ancient churches and
 mosques across the
land.  The Christians
dealt with this threat
by building their
churches in cliffs, on
small islands,  and
hiding important
artifacts.  Ethiopia is
spotted with rock
hewned churches,
the most amazing of
which lies in Lalibella.
 
Around 1250 AD, King Lalibella received a message
from angels to carve churches in the stone to
replicate Jerusalem.  They would help and build the
churches in eleven days.  Visions of angels building
churches in eleven days may be amazing, but that is
exactly what the churches of Lalibella are
........astounding.   As our guide put it the masons  
chiseled into rock to make the outside and chiseled
up rock to carve out the inside, pillars, arches and all.  
Some of the churches are built into the walls of cliff.  
For others only the back wall is part of the cliff.  St.
George, however, is completely separated from the
rock.  They literally cut down in the rock.  Needless to
say all of the churches are one piece of rock.  Simply
amazing especially since it was built in 13th century.  
Lalibela is rather
remote, tucked in the
mountains.  Until
recently it was almost
inaccessible.  The
roads are extremely
poor.  But now
Ethiopian Airlines flies
daily so it isn’t terrible
difficult anymore.  
The great thing about
Lalibella is that it a
living monument.
When I visited it was
Ethiopian Easter, We
watched monks, nuns
and worshipers as
they sift through the
caves from one
church to the other
(there are 11 in total)
praying in front of the
sanctuary and
painted icons (some
relatively cheesy 7ft
posters of Jesus’ face
set aglow with
blinking Christmas
lights by a ray-
banded monk ….
inside)   At night we
returned for the
Easter vigil where
monks chanted and
danced until 3:00
when they could
break the fast.  
Pilgrims came to hear
them as they
slumbered on any
available space in the
church.
There are churches all over the
area.  About 30 km away we
visited a church, Yemrahena,
built in a cave that possessed
the remains of thousands of
Coptic pilgrims. There is a
huge pit of strewn bones,
skulls and, shockingly well
preserved bodies for people
who walked from Egypt to be
buried in the church 1,500
years ago.    
During New Years 2006, I went solo to the oldest standing
monastery in the country, Debra Damo.  After an 11 km walk
passing by pleasant children who tried to mooch a pen and
throw rocks at my back, I hiked up a butte and then pulled
myself (with a little help) up 30 ft cliff by leather rope.  
Meanwhile nuns would kiss the base of the cliff since no
women are aloud on the mastiff.  On the top, was a lovely
monastery and a batch of monks who I ended spending the
night with.  With no electricity, I was in bed (more like a sheep’s
hide) on New Years eve by 8:00.  As I slept I could hear monks
chanting in and out of my slumber.
Mosque, Tigray region
Orthodox Chritian church crosses
Orthodox Chritian church crosses
Illustrated bible in Debra Damo
Priest in
Mikoli
near the
camp,

Priest
during
Easter
night vigil
Monk in
Axum
St. Michelea, Lalibella
Illustrated bible in Debra Damo
Easter vigil, Lalibella
Easter vigil, Lalibella
walking through the paths to church, Lalibella
St. George, Lalibella
pilgrims coming to pray, Lalibella
Pair of sunglasses, the illumination of christ, vaulted ceilings, Lalibella
Pair of sunglasses, the illumination of christ, vaulted ceilings, Lalibella
In the 16th century pilgrims from Coptic Syria marched to Ethiopia to die in this chuch tucked in the cave, Lalibella
Elderly  monk returning home...but first he's got to clim 3 stories, Debre Damo
Pair of sunglasses, the illumination of christ, vaulted ceilings, Lalibella
Axum Church
Nimble feet climb up to Debre Damo
Axumite architecture, Debre Damo
Because women are not allowed on the
mastiff , they pray at the base of the cliff.
Pair of sunglasses, the illumination of christ, vaulted ceilings, Lalibella
Pair of sunglasses, the illumination of christ, vaulted ceilings, Lalibella
photo by Greg Beals
Pair of sunglasses, the illumination of christ, vaulted ceilings, Lalibella
Pair of sunglasses, the illumination of christ, vaulted ceilings, Lalibella
photo by Greg Beals
photo by Greg Beals
photo by Greg Beals