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Ethiopia: Abuna Yemata Guh church

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Abuna Yemata Guh church | Ethiopia | Africa

[Visited: November 2006]

In several accounts, I had read that Abuna Yemata Guh was not easy to reach; I even read accounts of people who were not able to climb to the church at all. Since I have not done any rockclimbing in my life, I was therefore curious about the way up. When we arrived at the foot of the mountain, the priest was out, but he could easily be located on the market of nearby Megab. In the beginning, the old man climbed up as if gravity did not count for him - it was amazing to see him storm the mountain, serenely in his white robe and a stick on his shoulders. By this time, we were being followed by a procession of local boys, all trying to impose themselves as our guides. It did not take us long before we reached a wall above us. From here, we had to climb.

Picture of Abuna Yemata Guh church (Ethiopia): Nine apostles on fresco in cupola of Abuna Yemata Guh church

I left my shoes on a rock, and found out that not only was it much easier than I thought to climb, I also enjoyed it a lot. When we reached a ledge from which the panorama of the backside of the mountain opened up, I felt thrilled at having reached this place all by my own power. Some skulls and bones were buried in one small cave, but the real treasure lies a little higher. Walking the very edge of the rocky pillar you reach a small cave entrance, and after the priest opened the old wooden door, a marvelously painted interior opened up to us. We were all too eager to go in, and absorbed the very well preserved frescoes with delight. The fact that this small church is entirely constructed in the rock means that the only light comes from the door opening, unfortunately, there are no side entrances and no additional light. But this scarcity of light also adds to the atmosphere.

Picture of Abuna Yemata Guh church (Ethiopia): Priest below the rock pillar in which Abuna Yemata Guh is hewn

Perhaps most strikingly are the cupolas. One depicts nine of the apostles, the other the Nine Saints who came from Syria, established themselves in Axum after which they spread in the region to build or carve out churches. Abuna Yemata was one of the Nine Priests, and by choosing this location in the 15th century, he made sure his church would remain out of reach of the enemies of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Although I would have loved to stay inside until the sun would go down, to soak up the atmosphere, look meticulously at all amazingly fresh paintings, this was not possible, and we had to leave perhaps the most beautiful church of the country. When we stepped outside and sat in the entrance, we again realized the unique location of this church: just a metre away was the abyss of perhaps 200 metres straight down, and a spectacular view of the countryside at our feet.

Picture of Abuna Yemata Guh church (Ethiopia): Priest of Abuna Yemata Guh walking on the ledge to the entrance
Picture of Abuna Yemata Guh church (Ethiopia): Nine apostles on a fresco inside Abuna Yemata Guh church
Picture of Abuna Yemata Guh church (Ethiopia): Twelve apostles on fresco inside Abuna Yemata Guh: 9 on the ceiling, 3 on the wall
Picture of Abuna Yemata Guh church (Ethiopia): Priest in Abuna Yemata Guh with some of the incredibly preserved murals
Picture of Abuna Yemata Guh church (Ethiopia): Procession of Abuna Yemata in Abuna Yemata Guh church
Picture of Abuna Yemata Guh church (Ethiopia): Rocky pillars in which Abuna Yemata Guh church is hidden
Picture of Abuna Yemata Guh church (Ethiopia): Murals on wall, pillar and one cupola of Abuna Yemata Guh church
Picture of Abuna Yemata Guh church (Ethiopia): Religious figures depicted on mural inside Abuna Yemata Guh church
Picture of Abuna Yemata Guh church (Ethiopia): Abuna Yemata Guh: Virgin Mary with Jesus on mural inside Abuna Yemata Guh church
Picture of Abuna Yemata Guh church (Ethiopia): Silhouette of priest stepping out of Abuna Yemata Guh: stunning views
Picture of Abuna Yemata Guh church (Ethiopia): Abuna Yemata Guh: climbing down the rocks of this spectacular church
Picture of Abuna Yemata Guh church (Ethiopia): Rocky pillar of the pinnacle of Guh group in which Abuna Yemata Guh is located
Picture of Abuna Yemata Guh church (Ethiopia): Part of the rocky pinnacle group of Guh in which Abuna Yemata Guh church is located

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