A man and a child herd cattle and horses near the ford on the outskirts of the town of Mekane Eyesus, in the district of Iste, South Gondär.
The golden cross on the roof of Hayq Estifanos (The Church of St. Stephen at Hayq). Hayq Estifanos is a monastic community on a peninsula in Lake Hayq (Lake Lake) in the Wollo area of Ethiopia. It was an important early site of monasticism South of Tigray and today is a pleasant place birds sing and monks grow crops.
A summer electrical storm lights up the night over the modernist abbey church on the campus of St. John’s University, in Collegeville, Minnesota. The impressive storm raged for many hours, but I was unable to stay even an hour, as the driving rain was rendering all my photos blurry, and could not be kept off the lens, and rising winds threatened the stability of my tripod. Not to mention that standing in an open field in an electrical storm is somewhat disconcerting. . .
20 seconds at f/5.6 iso 400.
An arch holding up the bell tower (if tower is the right word) hangs over a set of concrete seats, next to the entrance to the abbey church, St. John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota.
The modernist foyer and baptismal font in the Abbey Church. The statue is St. John the Baptist by Doris Caesar.
An overview of the interior, showing the altar, and behind it the futuristic throne of the abbot. The pews, angular and concrete, are extremely uncomfortable, apparently a purposeful design decision, coupled with the brutalism of the architecture and the bareness of the concrete, underscoring the ascetic quality of monastic life.
A stairway leading to the balcony shows the beautiful quality of the windows, contrasting against the bareness of the concrete, at the Abbey Church of St. John’s.
The front windows, as seen from the balcony of the Abbey Church of St. John’s. The backlit tops of the pews may be faintly seen in the dark lower section of the image.
Pilgrims sit under a tree in front of Bilbala Gyorgis Church, near Lalibela, Ethiopia. Most have spots of skin smeared with the holy mud cure that makes the church an attractive pilgrimage site.
Large trees, especially sycamores, as here, are associated with churches and gathering-places in Ethiopia. In the Southern part, they are holy sites for animist cults, and it is thought that they may have had religious significance in pre-Christian times.
Yemrehana Kristos, in the village of Imrehana, 35km outside of Lalibela, is without doubt one of the most impressive churches in Ethiopia, and should be on the itinerary of anyone who is visiting the country. An hour’s drive from Lalibela over a 4WD road, it is slightly remote, and does not get the attention it deserves.
The church is one of the most important and impressive examples of the Axumite style of architecture. This style is characterized by the alternating layers and protruding beam-ends (‘monkey-heads’), as can be seen above. Another common feature, which can’t be seen here, is the presence of a number of blind (false) windows inside. Yemrehana Kristos is an interesting variant on the cave church, being a full, roofed church built inside of a large cave. Outsside of the church is the traditional former residence of the founding king and a bone-pile with the corpses and remains of an estimated 10,000 pilgrims (and possibly massacre victims as well).
The somewhat unusual nature of this church as a full, roofed church built in a large cave is shown here. The wall on the right is recent, but this view, towards the sanctuary gives a good sense of the Axumite style of building.
This interior shot, a mixture of natural light and light painting using flashlight over a two-minute exposure, begins to show how extravagantly decorated the interior of the church is, and also shows a characteristic Axumite series of blind windows on the upper level. The geometric decoration scheme is unusual in EOTC architecture, adding to what is exceptional about this church. The paintings are frescoes, and some are starting to degrade, making conservation a pressing priority.
These tombs, I believe of King Imrehana and his brother (but I would have to look that up) are in the cave, next to the church. Ethiopians make a habit of covering anything of religious significance with large amounts of cloth, a custom well-exemplified here.
A nun prays facing the chapel/treasury where Ethiopian tradition claims the Ark of the Covenant is stored.
According to the Kebra Negast, the Ethiopian national legend, the Queen of Sheba had a child of her rape by Solomon, named Menelik. When the child was grown, he asked of his father, so the queen told Menelik of Solomon (whom he apparently resembled perfectly) and gave him a ring to identify him. When Menelik traveled to Israel and showed the ring to his father, he was accepted with much rejoicing; Solomon appointed the first-born sons of all his chief advisors to be Menelik’s advisors, and to serve at the court in Ethiopia [sic]. As the eldest sons were due to inherit their fathers’ positions, much more desirable than foreign exile, they were understandably annoyed, and conspired with the son of the chief priest to take the Ark with them, that they might not be robbed of its proximity. When the time to leave came, they took the ark out at night, and fled to Ethiopia; because the Ark grants a supernatural bonus to overland movement, the pursuing army was unable to catch them.
When he returned to Ethiopia, Menelik established a housing for the Ark based upon that described in the bible, and it has remained in Ethiopia ever since, moving to a variety of places over time. One monk is assigned sole care of the ark and the upper-floor of the treasury that houses it for the remainder of his life, choosing another just before he dies. Lest you think there is only one guardian to get past, the monk’s compound is itself guarded by men with automatic rifles, and those who get too close to the Ark reputedly burst into flames, in any event.
Though the myth is generally compatible with the historic record, this has more to do with it being based in the same sources that we would use to evaluate it as anything else. There are loads of problems, mainly that the Queen of Sheba (Sabea) would not have lived in Ethiopia, but in Sabea–South Arabia. She is not a historic figure, but possibly the conflation of later queens–there were no female monarchs of Sabea during the time of Solomon, and the story is entirely mythical. It’s also unclear whether, as is claimed, Ethiopia was ever Jewish at all–I personally doubt it, and scholarship cannot agree on this point. If there is a grain of truth at the heart of the Solomon and Sheba myth, the parts that the medieval legend recounted in the Kebra Negast builds upon are wholly fictional. Given Ethiopia’s many wars and its great pride in ownership of the Ark, I also find it very odd that they have never carried the Ark, which, in the Old Testament, is a military super-weapon, into battle, nor paraded it around, like they do with the tabot. I have definitely experienced a large number of claims by priests and the Church here that would be easily falsifiable and have no religious reason for being hidden, but the secrecy surrounding them strongly suggests that they were made up–I would be loved to be provved wrong on this, if anyone ccan arrange for me to navigate the secret tunnel from Mt. Asheton to Na’abtela, or from Axum to Arabia. . .
Whether false or true (and churchmen here will not acknowledge in any way that it might not be true), it is a core part of Ethiopian religious belief, which has structured the way churches are consecrated around the tabot, ark-replicas that ensure the holiness of each church (Churches are not holy in Ethiopia, tabot are).