Photos from the Tigray and Amhara regions of Ethiopia documenting a 1,700+ years legacy of Christianity and traditions of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.

(left) A midnight mass inside Biete Maryam Church in Lalibela.

(right) The red sandstone Gheralta Mountains of Tigray, outlined through morning haze. Tigray is the northernmost region in Ethiopia, and numerous monasteries and orthodox churches are built in natural caves or carved into cliffs and peaks in Gheralta. The exact date the first orthodox rock churches were built in Tigray is disputed among historians, but most date their origins to between the 4th and 15th centuries A.D.

Worshippers and priests from all over Ethiopia participate in a joint prayer during Orthodox Easter.


(left) Bete Giyorgis, or the Church of Saint George in Lalibela, Ethiopia. There are eleven rock-hewn monolithic churches in Lalibela, and Bete Giyorgis was believed to have been carved in the late 12th or early 13th century A.D.

The rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, in the Amhara region, have UNESCO World Heritage designation, and Lalibela is a pilgrimage site for members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.

(right) A priest inside Bete Giyorgis, the Church of Saint George.

(left) The Obelisk of Axum with the Church of Saint Mary of Zion in the background. 

The Obelisk is one of many monumental stelae that were erected in pre-Christian times throughout the ancient Kingdom of Axum. They were believed to mark burial grounds, and the last of the stelae in this group in Axum was built during the reign of King Ezana (320-360 A.D.), who later converted to Christianity. King Ezana was the first Christian Axumite King, and the kingdom and region embraced Christianity after his conversion. Frumentius, King Ezana's tutor, later became the head of the new Ethiopian Orthodox Church. 

The Church of Saint Mary of Zion is a notable Orthodox Church because it claims to contain the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant is described in the Bible's Book of Exodus as being a gold-plated chest constructed by Moses to hold the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments of Christianity. 

(right) The priest of Maryam Korkor, a church in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. Most of the rock-hewn monastaries and churches in Tigray are still in use, with community members making steep climbs up to elevated places of worship at least once a week.

An all-night candlelight vigil the evening before Orthodox Easter in Lalibela, Ethiopia.


(left) Into the rock pillar seen in the distance, in the middle of the frame, is carved Abuna Yemata Guh, a monolithic church in Ethiopia's Tigray region. 

Abuna Yemata Guh can be reached only by climbing, and the ascent includes a vertical cliff face with hand and footholds worn into the rock from years of use. The church is located at roughly 2,580 metres (8,460 ft) height, and it is dedicated to Abuna Yemata, one of the Nine Saints of early Ethiopian Christianity. 

(right) A priest inside the rock-hewn church of Abuna Yemata Guh. It is theorized that churches in the Gheralta Mountains were carved at such high elevations so that worshippers could hide from invading armies, as well as be closer to God and the heavens. 

View from the entryway of Abuna Yemata Guh into the valley below.


(left) Jesus' twelve disciples painted onto the ceiling of Abuna Gebre Mikael, a church in the Tigray region. Of the cluster of rock-hewn churches in the Gheralta Mountains, Abuna Gebre Mikael has some of the most vibrant religious art from early Ethiopian orthodoxy.

(right) A man chants a prayer in Ge'ez during a midnight mass. While not widely spoken in everyday life, Ge'ez is an ancient language that is still used as a liturgical language in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. 

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