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Ethiopia: Lalibela Sunday Mass

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Lalibela Sunday Mass | Ethiopia | Africa

[Visited: October 2006]

According to the hotel staff, Saturday night would be a special occasion to visit the rock-hewn churches. Instead, I woke up early on Sunday morning and descended to the entrance of the northwestern cluster. While Lalibela had seemed quiet the previous days, there was a busy atmosphere around the entrance. People were selling candles, people were whispering to each other, and the delicate sound of the long white robes filled the air as worshippers flocked to the ancient group of churches. I descended to Bet Medhane Alem, but was not allowed to enter, unlike previous days. It would prove the best that could happen to me.

Picture of Lalibela Sunday Mass (Ethiopia): Priests during Sunday morning mass near the grave of Lalibela; worshippers follow them in prayers

As I came through the tunnel leading to Bet Maryam and reached the open space in front of it, I noticed praying people everywhere: in corners, on the edge of the trenches, leaning against the wall of the church and the pit. They were reading small books, bowing with their head directed towards the wall, or just sitting on the floor, covered in their white robe. Murmuring of worshippers filled the air and engulfed me, and although I was the only foreigner, I seemed to go unnoticed. I went up and sat on top of the trench, from where I could look down not only to Bet Maryam, but also to Bet Mikael and the trench leading up to it.

Picture of Lalibela Sunday Mass (Ethiopia): Praying against the wall and about to kiss the floor of Bet Maryam

I remained here for a long while, in fascination of the scenes unfolding right under my eyes. While morning light was gradually seeping onto the landscape and the worshippers, more and more people in white robes arrived for Sunday morning mass in Lalibela. What had been white-dressed shadows before, became people with faces, faces with expressions, people fumbling the pages of their small holy books, sometimes fanatically or desperately praying worshippers. The always increasing crowd obediently followed the instructions of the priests whom they could not see, bending forward, standing up, praying, being silent. The sun popped over the edge of the horizon behind me, and the warm light of its rays fell over the crowd like a soft blanket.

Picture of Lalibela Sunday Mass (Ethiopia): Sunday morning mass at Lalibela: worshippers above Bet Mikael
Picture of Lalibela Sunday Mass (Ethiopia): Worshippers during Sunday morning mass in Lalibela
Picture of Lalibela Sunday Mass (Ethiopia): Solitary worshipper in a corner of Lalibela, near Bet Danaghel
Picture of Lalibela Sunday Mass (Ethiopia): Women praying against the wall of Bet Mikael
Picture of Lalibela Sunday Mass (Ethiopia): Trench filled with worshippers near Bet Mikael
Picture of Lalibela Sunday Mass (Ethiopia): Old women joining Sunday morning mass
Picture of Lalibela Sunday Mass (Ethiopia): Women praying on top of the trench near Bet Mikael
Picture of Lalibela Sunday Mass (Ethiopia): Sunday morning mass: priests performing service
Picture of Lalibela Sunday Mass (Ethiopia): Worshippers in a trench near Bet Mikael, praying during Sunday morning mass
Picture of Lalibela Sunday Mass (Ethiopia): Sunlight falling over the worshippers as they lie on the floor in prayer
Picture of Lalibela Sunday Mass (Ethiopia): Praying near the edge of the trench of Bet Mikael church on Sunday morning
Picture of Lalibela Sunday Mass (Ethiopia): Praying under the scaffolding of Bet Meskal
Picture of Lalibela Sunday Mass (Ethiopia): Priest having a break during Sunday morning mass

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