My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Ethiopia - Abraha we Atsbeha rock hewn church

locals gathered after worship in traditional
white robes as we approached Abraha we Atsbeha
You have to remember with these rock hewn churches that they are quite literally carved out of the sandstone rock in the cliff faces where they nestle - and it is difficult to imagine the extraordinary skills required of the craftsmen. Why did they do it? Where did they start? How did they choose the sites? What happened to all the rock literally chiselled and hacked out from the inside of the rocks, leaving just the arches and columns and cupolas and sometimes beautifully detailed crosses and other carvings on walls and ceilings?
Abraha we Atsbeha entrance to the courtyard
 And these are not dead and boring artefacts of a bygone age. They are living spiritual homes for hundreds and hundreds of devout worshippers who walk, often many miles, to attend services, as their forefathers have done since the churches were built, most at least by the 16th century, many much earlier even than that. And that is just for an ordinary day - for special feast and other holy days the crowds will be huge - as we experience a little later into our pilgrimage.
the last few steps up to Abraha we Atsbeha
courtyard entrance

once within the courtyard - the more recent white
Italian portico over the original church
porch - note the original church is part of the rock face itself

Adam and Eve

one example of beautiful church murals

the devil in chains - wall mural
note the angels looking in all directions - God looks
at us all wherever we are
 We leave Wukro Chirkos and after a coffee break in Wakru (amazing - the locals seem to quite willingly give up all their seats on the street side patio outside the restaurant to accommodate our group!) we make our way in the coach for 45km along what the guide book describes as a well-maintained and scenic dirt road. Scenic it certainly is - the views are stunning all the way along - but it is very twisty and bumpy and almost more than some of our group can stomach. But wow the destination is worth it.
Mary suckling the baby Jesus
This church is regarded by many to be the finest in Tigrai, simply for its wonderfully exotic and colourful wall and ceiling murals, depicting the complete history of the Ethiopian Christian Church. The church itself is much older than its murals, tradition saying that it was excavated in AD335-40 by the 4th century twin emperors Abraha and Atsbeha to whom the church is dedicated. Their mummified bodies are said to be in a box in the Holy of Holies within the church. Who knows? A priest tried to check the contents of the box and was so severely burnt on his hands that no-one has dared to further investigate!

more wall murals within church
One could study these murals for a very long time but sadly we do not have this luxury - we have to find lunch back in Wakru before a very long drive ahead of us - albeit a fabulously scenic and fascinating one - to reach Axum and our hotel for the night ... to explore Ethiopia's most historically and archaeologically important town - site of its earliest church and spiritual home of its unique Christian tradition.
outside the church a priest studies in the shade
with fabulous view beyond

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