More than FAITH needed – Ethiopia

We picked up our local guide Gebre from a small town as we headed towards the Gheralta Mountains. After four days of trekking through breathtaking landscape of Tigray in Northern Ethiopia we were headed for our final adventure before heading back to Addis, our visit to the rock-hewn church of Abuna Yemata Guh tucked away in some cliffs a hair raising climb away.

Starting the walk towards the rock face we need to climb

Starting the walk towards the rock face we need to climb

The churches in the Gheralta cluster of churches, around 30, are believed by locals to have been built back in the 4th to 6th century but its more commonly thought they were built between the 9th and 12th centuries. Either way they are phenomenal in their location, structure and certainly not built for those afraid of heights. If you’re wanting to get closer to God and have your prayers sent on up – you’re certainly in the right place by taking an adventure here.

A young girl herding the goats

A young girl herding the goats

Even though I had visited the area and this church five years earlier, and had been rambling on about it to my friends for weeks, nothing looked familiar. When we pulled off the road to park I still couldn’t make out the rock face we had climbed years earlier and was convinced we were in the wrong place. However, as we started our walk across the flat valley towards the rock face my memory partly restored and the landscape reveled a glimpse at the climb up ahead of us.

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The church entrance is tucked around the backside of the right hand rock pillar and completely out of sight until you enter the cave door. Unless you have a local guide you would possibly never find it as once you reach the rock face there is no clear path showing the way.
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The walk across the valley floor leading up is gradual and starts to reveal how steep the final parts of the decent will be but its not until you hit the end of the trail that you realise what is potentially ahead of you. It was mid morning when we reached the face and already hot when we started to use our hands to help negotiate the first section of the climb over the rocks.
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Once we reached the free climb section which consisted of sandstone walls we were asked to take our shoes off and leave them in order to continue the climb. At this point we had reached what was considered the church grounds and taking our shoes off also provided much needed grip for the 90 degree rock face we were ascending.
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The pack of men who had joined us and we had all been thinking the same thing “I can carry my own bag and I really don’t need your help”, soon became our safety nets and mules for safely carrying our bags and supporting us up the rock faces. They placed themselves ahead and behind us offering protection and guidance for every small foot and hand hold we could use. This is when my battle with keeping my camera out and the men looking at me slightly flustered asking to take it began. My stubbornness versus their extensive knowledge and climbing ability were a fine match which they eventually won and only the iPHONE stayed out.
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I had warned my friends that there was one tough section that really was like rock climbing but I hadn’t remembered it being as challenging or long as it seemed this time – maybe my age was catching up to me, I certainly didn’t feel as nimble as I had years earlier but also was on my own so wasn’t thinking about others.  I worried about the stress I was putting my friend through and hoped that I hadn’t built the view and church up to something more than what it was and I had remembered. I wondered if maybe the exhilaration of the climb had made the church and its location seem amazing and I did my own little prayer that they would be as impressed and amazed by the whole experience as I was.
The entrance to the church is along this ledge

Friends and Gebre peaking out the entrance to the church is along this ledge you make the final walk

So many questions entered my mind again as I reached the final ledge that you have to walk leading to the cave like entrance of the
Why? How? Why was it built here? How did they do it?
The view out the doorway of the entrance

The view out the doorway of the church entrance

As we rested in the church looking at the paintings, catching our breath and pondering how difficult the climb down would be seeing where you were headed, Gebre told us about the history of the church. He mentioned and showed us where the elders would rest and how baptisms happened at the church – mothers would climb with their babies up to have them baptised. We all looked at each other as if he was possibly joking – no joke. I certainly sat humbled at people’s conviction to their faith and the heights they would go to in order to get their blessings and have their prayers heard.

9 of the 12 apostles on the roof of the church

9 of the 12 apostles on the roof of the church

Old paintings cover the walls

Old paintings cover the walls

The priest shows us old texts

The priest shows us old texts

Old texts inside Abun

Old texts

The climb down was epic but not as frightening as anticipated. With our new built trust in our guides and the adrenaline still pumping we were all pretty pleased to reach our shoes and resume the walk on more level ground.

Is the climb worth it? Yep… I’d do it a third time for sure!

The climb down

Meghan & Edy negotiating the climb down

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2 thoughts on “More than FAITH needed – Ethiopia

  1. Pingback: Trekking in Tigray… | Strength in Vulnerability

  2. Actually a breath taking …… but to make a common but Major spelling mistake you made on the following statement “God” ….. “If you’re wanting to get closer to god and have your prayers sent on up”….

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