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Ethiopia: Genata Maryam Medhane Alem

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Genata Maryam Medhane Alem | Ethiopia | Africa

[Visited: October 2006]

Even though we had a clear arrangement before leaving, our driver suddenly started an argument when we got off the car in Genata Maryam, a small village at the foot of Mount Abuna Yosef. As often the case, it was about money; after we settled it, we could start out walk up. After crossing some very nice countryside with fields full of barley and beans, we reached the real climb up. Some of the ascent was quite steep; as soon as we reached the higher levels, the path followed the edge of the mountain. When we arrived at the other side of the mountain, we soon reached Mekina Medhane Alem. However, the door to the church was closed.

Picture of Genata Maryam Medhane Alem (Ethiopia): Fresco on the ceiling of Genata Maryam

Mekina Medhane Alem is situated inside a cave, much like Yemrehanna Kristos, although less famous, probably because it is more difficult to visit. The caretaker of the church was there, and even though he had the key, he did not want to take the responsibility of letting in visitors without the priest. He guided us up to his own small dwelling near the roof of the cave, from where we had a view of the small church in the cave. While we were sitting on his old leather-and-wood bed, we heard a rumour from outside, and mysteriously, the priest had appeared. When we entered the church, I was particularly happy that he had showed up: the inside paintings and frescoes were of particular beauty. The interior is always dark as the apparently 6th century church is situated in a cave. While the torch of my guide followed the scenes on the walls and the ceiling, some scenes suddenly became visible while others returned to the darkness where they had been just before. The darkness, and the beautiful scenes unfolding under the light of the torch only added to the mystery of Mekina Medhane Alem.

Picture of Genata Maryam Medhane Alem (Ethiopia): Genata Maryam church: arches and decorated ceiling

We walked back to where we started, and visited Genata Maryam. This is a completely different church, mostly because of its open location. Also here, it was very unfortunate that the protective scaffolding completely hides the church. The priest was quickly located, after which he gave us a tour of his church. The frescoes here were particularly bright, and since there was sufficient daylight entering the church, we could easily see them. This church is supposed to date from the 13th century and therefore much younger than Mekina Medhane Alem, and also completely different.

Picture of Genata Maryam Medhane Alem (Ethiopia): Mekina Medhane Alem church: detail of the interior
Picture of Genata Maryam Medhane Alem (Ethiopia): Crosses at the entrance inside the cave of Mekina Medhane Alem church
Picture of Genata Maryam Medhane Alem (Ethiopia): Interior of Mekina Medhane Alem
Picture of Genata Maryam Medhane Alem (Ethiopia): Fresco inside Mekina Medhane Alem church
Picture of Genata Maryam Medhane Alem (Ethiopia): Mekina Medhane Alem: fresco inside the church
Picture of Genata Maryam Medhane Alem (Ethiopia): Mekina Medhane Alem church was built inside a cave
Picture of Genata Maryam Medhane Alem (Ethiopia): Mount Abuna Yosef: path leading to Mekina Medhane Alem church
Picture of Genata Maryam Medhane Alem (Ethiopia): Genata Maryam church seen from outside
Picture of Genata Maryam Medhane Alem (Ethiopia): Ceiling of Genata Maryam church with religious figures in frescoes
Picture of Genata Maryam Medhane Alem (Ethiopia): Genata Maryam church
Picture of Genata Maryam Medhane Alem (Ethiopia): Wooden toolbox of Mekina Medhane Alem church
Picture of Genata Maryam Medhane Alem (Ethiopia): Angel in fresco inside Genata Maryam church
Picture of Genata Maryam Medhane Alem (Ethiopia): Religious figures depicted on wall of Genata Maryam church

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