Abuna Yemata Rock Church – Ever Get Vertigo At Mass?

by John Downey

The approach to Abuna Yemata rock monastery. Note the white-roofed house about one quarter down the hill face, between the two spires. The approach passes just to the right of the house.

Abuna Yemata Guh rock church was carved out of solid sandstone, on the south side of the spire to the right of this image, circa the 15th Century.  Located in the Megab area of Tigray (Northern Ethiopia), 200m up from the base of this small massif, it is amazingly well-preserved.

Monks carved spaces for footholds. An easy 5.6 freeclimb but spotters ensure uneasy tourists don't slip or go off route. Still, a little unnerving considering we had to remove shoes at the base (by the tree branch in the photo). Loose sand in the pockets didn't inspire confidence.

The steepest section is right off the deck. Casaye, one of four spotters, looks on as I find purchase to take this photo.

Curiously, I was able to make a good portrait of Casaye (final image below), using a slow approach and asking permission. Another member of our group asked me, "is it ok to take his picture?" I said, "well, ask him, not me." When she did, she thrust her camera into his face, prompting him to back against the sandstone like this. Note the footholds to the left.

After taking the previous shot, I cautiously turned on a small ledge to capture this desert vista. It's the dry season in Ethiopia. Note the dust in the air that pales the sky almost to the top of the frame.

Tesfahun, our guide, demonstrates warning chimes in the event of an emergency on the wall. "This is for an emergency... but, but, there has never been an emergency. If there was one, and there never has been one, we would use this to call help from the village. But we have never had an emergency." Not exactly building confidence there, Mr. Nixon.

Tombs along the approach.

"Was this a good priest or a bad priest?" "No, no, good priest." "Can I touch?" "No, no touch." As Casaye said this, he speared the right eye socket with a stick to place it atop the femur for a better view.

A spotter poses on the rock ledge, two hundred meters up. Immediately around the corner behind him is Abuna Yemata Guh rock church.

High Priest of Abuna Yemata Guh who hikes from Megab village daily, both for mass and visitors.

Inside Abuna Yemata. Though small, this rock church rivals those of Lalibela.

Incredibly well-preserved drawings and designs adorn the walls and ceiling. Nine of the twelve Apostles are depicted here.

Tesfahun accounting a brief history. Prior to entering the church, bug spray is a must to prevent flea bites. It's tough to clean carpets up here.

A goat skin Bible. Allegedly, 900 years-old.

Head priest, Abuna Yemata.

Casaye

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