Quiet Photography – Bet Giyorgis Rock Church

by John Downey

As previously mentioned, I travelled to Lalibela in Amhara state, Ethiopia to photograph this historical town.  I knew the inclement weather would be challenging but it was just good to get out of Addis Ababa for a couple of days.  I spent almost three hours wandering around Bet Giyorgis, an isolated Orthodox Christian church hewn from solid, red volcanic rock.  It’s the off season, so for this wet Friday afternoon, I was the only foreigner at the church. Usually, the priests or guards kick everyone out at 1pm, the start of prayer, but I managed to keep quiet and not get in the way.  After  I shot the above image, it started to rain so I descended to the second anteroom, following the priest below, and set up the tripod by the large door.

Just waited.

And a few walked in.

The man below stayed the entire time I was there.  He murmured for about an hour and then the high priest appeared through a haze of blue incense and motioned for the guy to fetch what looked like a leather pouch.  After retrieving and handing it to the priest, he backed up and knelt, then continued to hang out by the door.  The result are these images which I like because the series shows a progression of events, summed in the towering church over this guy in the doorway.

Getting the frame below was another matter.  The woman is the same one above in the doorway.  She was suspicious the entire time, but I made a careful approach, somehow communicated I wanted a picture of her showing the Bible and hands.

End of prayer.

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