Ethiopia / Places We Go

Beta Maryam, Ethiopia

Also known as Menelik’s Mausoleum, the Beta Maryam Mausoleum is located just south of Menelik’s palace in Addis Ababa and offers a pleasantly eerie experience for visitors.

Beta Maryam from the outside:

beta maryam

The entrance to Beta Maryam:

beta maryam

The church interior:

beta maryam

beta maryam

beta maryam

After the priest has rolled up the carpet and pried open the large metal door in the floor, you will descend into the thick air of the creepy crypt. There you will find four elaborate marble tombs of Empress Taitu (for whom our hotel was named), Emperor Menelik, Empress Zewditu and Princess Tsehai Haile Selassie.

beta maryam

The rain was absolutely hammering down outside and so after emerging from the crypt, we stayed inside the church with many others to take refuge from the intense weather:

beta maryam

beta maryam

During the rainstorm, the priests were rushing outside with any container they could find to fill it with water. Through a process they were extremely vague about, this water is somehow magically transformed into “holy water” which they then sell to fools devout followers of Christ for a dear price.

This intense and off-putting focus on the acquisition of wealth was, unfortunately, a common theme among all of the churches we visited in Ethiopia:

beta maryam

At closing time, the rain was still beating down and the surrounding streets and courtyards were small lakes. So, we huddled under the eaves of Beta Maryam waiting and hoping that the rain would let up a little (It didn’t).

These are some pictures I took of the people that were present while we were waiting:

beta maryam

beta maryam

Self-appointed guides will circle like sharks at Beta Maryam (and any place like it) seeking to extract as much money as possible from any visiting foreigners. This is the one that attached himself to us:

beta maryam


26 thoughts on “Beta Maryam, Ethiopia

  1. Hi Justin! How’ve you been? Thanks for your wonderful photo report. As I promised earlier I’ve just posted some of your great “Entoto” images in my blog. Thanks again,


  2. I can’t believe priests sell raining water for holy water. The Catholic Church never stops to surprise me! I liked the pics of the people.

    • First of its not a Catholic Church its ethiopian Orthodox Church and secondly I used to live in that area for over 20 years and am from ethiopia and an orthodox my self our church does not sell the holy water they got their information wrong some individuals who wan help the church with what they got give money for the holy water as a way to help the church but if you don’t have any anyone can get it for free. I my self went to that church all my childhood and drank the holy water for free and gave money when I have so don’t truste everyone who writes some report based on what they have heard but did not see the actuall thing. And yes it’s a very beautiful church and very peaceful one.

  3. Dear author

    I quiet like your page in regards to your visit to Ethiopia and accurate in the majority of the time . But I find it offensive that you call the devout Orthodox Christians( the above article) fools . For a start the holy water is not for sale but served first comes first served basis.And as to the fact that you said that the preists are greedy and is all about making money ….their only source of income is from the visitors actually they should charge an entrance fee like any museum in Europe or USA etc . Please some of your facts right and be respectfull.



    • Thank you, Selam.

      I was not referring to the Orthodox Christians as fools, but rather those that would purchase dirty rain water that has been relabeled as “holy water” as fools. And while it may not be standard practice to sell this holy water, an effort was made to persuade us to buy some as well as several Ethiopians that were present.

      Additionally, I do not have a problem paying entrance fees to a place such as Beta Maryam, particularly if that is the only source of funding they have. However, I do have a problem with the price doubling or tripling at the end of my visit from the price I was quoted in the beginning (specific to Beta Maryam). My comments in regard to the greed of the church were more general though. I thought, for example, that the greed was much more transparent in Lalibela. The Catholic Church, Selam, yields to almost none when it comes to shameless greed, but even visiting the Vatican is not as expensive as visiting the churches of Lalibela. And the Vatican is reliant on donations also…

      • U should not refer the holy water as dirt water although it may seem dirty rain water for those of us who truly believe it and accept it as a holy water it is disrespectful that u referred to it as dirty rain water no matter your opinion I personally think you should be very respectful towards anyone’s belief as ridiculous as it may seem to you. And secondly you comparing the Catholic Church regulations to the Orthodox Church regulations which I think is necessary because every religion again no matter how close they may be have different views and their for different regulations maybe you should take that in to consideration before generalizing or comparing. And you said to visit lalibela is more expensive because you personally think Vatican is more important and more impressive ?? Well for us Ethiopians the lalibela is more impressive and important and we can have the price tag of our belief on how much it should be don’t you think? But that said since your a tourist visiting my homeland I don’t wan be harsh on you :) yes their are some individuals out to get tourists and get money out of them your very right about that but let me ask you when you go to other 3rd world country’s have you never encountered this problems?? I bet you did. You see the thing is in ethiopia their are over a million people that have nothing to eat and die out of hunger not because they weren’t strong or didn’t work hard but because they don’t have nothing to eat so do you blame them if they tried to get extra money from tourists? It’s because they think people travel because they already have enough to eat they going to other places to enjoy n explore they aren’t fighting to get food in their stomach to survive!!! Anyway am not trying to defend them and say it’s right am just trying to give you a perspective or if you may call it a glass to see it from their eyes. Sorry I wrote a lot kinda got carried away.

  4. Dear Author
    First of all I would like to say thank you for visiting my country
    Please be respectful for any culture that you are visiting, No body asked you to visit any of this churches
    You have no idea about the holy water that is found in Ethiopia, we have our own way to do things which is not your business, stay with your belief
    Holy water never sold in our church; rather it is given for free
    Please be informed we are not fool, we know what we are doing don’t ever try to judge us with your little knowledge… we have a very deep tradition before you people are known as a comunity
    You said the entrance is expensive, do you think so? Late me tell you about the payment you maybe paid about 20 USD for 11 rock churches in Lalibela; which is about 1.8 USD per church, it is not as you said, tell me about the Vatican churches, are they one of the 8 wonders of the world? Did they build in the 13th C? Did they hewn out form one monolithic rock? … I don’t think so…
    You need to have respect for the culture of any place that you are visiting, if you are a real visitor
    Please travel for knowledge don’t do it because you have money
    Before any judgment please know about it
    What you wrote is disgraceful I am so sorry to say this
    May God bless you.

    • Thank you very much for your comment, Melaku.

      I am always respectful when visiting a foreign culture and I keep my impressions to myself at the time. However, Christianity is not a foreign culture as I am surrounded by Christianity in my country as well. Furthermore, is it unreasonable to form an opinion of something and to then share that impression with others? After all, the sharing of my unvarnished opinion is the reason many people visit this site. It seems as if you would silence any criticism or uncomfortable truth in the name of “respect” when, in fact, that is not respect, but merely blind obedience. Which is it that you desire? To convey my point with an extreme example: Had you visited Rwanda during the genocide of the 1990s, would you have kept silent out of “respect” for the culture? I would hope not.

      In regard to the sale of the holy water, I can only assume that your experience is far different than that of a Westerner visiting Beta Maryam. Is it not possible that you are treated differently than we or any other Westerners that visit Beta Maryam? For example: Holy water in Beta Maryam may be given out for free to locals, but an effort was made to sell us rainwater repackaged as holy water. Perhaps you, sir, are simply not aware of such double standards?

      I am certainly aware of the fees charged by the Vatican and, no, despite the buildings of Vatican City being quite beautiful and impressive, they are not hewn from solid rock. However, I am not one to defend the Vatican as I am put off by the manner in which they conduct themselves in both public and private. But, I am glad you brought up the whole issue of fees… You see, I have always been somewhat troubled by the concept of demanding that a visitor (or anyone for that matter) pay to visit what is supposed to be holy ground and a source of inspiration for the worship of God. If one is to find sanctuary within a house of God or to be inspired by the greatness of God, is it not slightly off-putting to that individual to have to pay for their sanctuary or inspiration? I have never paid to visit a mosque or a Buddhist temple. Why is that? Some of the mosques and Buddhist temples I have visited were desperately poor and yet a fee was never demanded of us for the privilege of visiting (Naturally, a donation was given by us, but it was not compulsory nor even expected). Why are Christians the only group that seem to try to extract as much money as possible out of visitors? And I direct this not so much at you, but at Christianity in general.

      In one of his rare moments of anger, Jesus threw the money changers and the sellers of doves (a comparison could be made here to the sellers of holy water in Beta Maryam and at Lalibela or certainly in Vatican City) out of Herod’s Temple. Would Jesus perhaps not do the same to those at Beta Maryam or those in Lalibela? I do not presume to know the will of God or god, but I believe the question may at least be asked…

      “And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.” – Matthew 21:12-13

      • Hello Justin,
        First, I would like to thank you for visiting Be-ata mariam church (it’s a museum too) in addis ababa. The holy water story is interesting which I do not want to argue on it (since it is not happening in all churches and in regular basis). If you do have evidence of the selling scandal of holy water, and report it to the church, the person who did will be in trouble (I am sure he will be fired for his did).
        Melaku; The way you handle to respond to Justin is a little rude. You do not have to attack his personality or identity or brag about our churches. Justin was already there because he is interested on Ethiopian history. It would have been wonderful if you would list out your facts… and Justin and others would learn in the process. One more thing, when you are talking about Ethiopian culture; do not forget we also have a culture of respecting other nations and nationalities.

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  6. Hello Justin,
    First, I would like to thank you for visiting Be-ata mariam church (it’s a museum too) in addis ababa. The holy water story is interesting which I do not want to argue on it (since it is not happening in all churches and in regular basis). If you do have evidence of the selling scandal of holy water, and report it to the church, the person who did will be in trouble (I am sure he will be fired for his did).

    Melaku; The way you handle to respond to Justin is a little rude. You do not have to attack his personality or identity or brag about our churches. Justin was already there because he is interested on Ethiopian history. It would have been wonderful if you would list out your facts… and Justin and others would learn in the process. One more thing, when you are talking about Ethiopian culture; do not forget we also have a culture of respecting other nations and nationalities.

  7. I gotta say, Be-ata mariam is one of few original Ethiopian orthodox church out there that represents who we really are as Ethiopians. I’m not defending anyone’s actions but rather the historical and spiritual meaning of the that church.
    That being said, Justin, you have a right to say whatever experience you had there. But like you said even Jesus kicked out merchants from the house of God that meant so much to him. Just because there were some thieves and merchants there doesn’t meant he had to bash the temple.
    So the point is , when you go to spiritual places like that, you have to have some kind of spiritual connection with that place and understand about the reason of that church meant. I’m not disagreeing with you that some dudes might have tried to get some money out of you, that’s normal if you go anywhere poor places. But don’t bash beata mariam. Try to enjoy the spiritual,historical meaning and experience.
    Speaking of the Holy water. You might not believe in it but masses of the people do. So don’t bash people’s beleif. If someone tried to sell you some, you should tell them you’ll report them. I’m sure some crooks will try to sell you just because you are foreigner. Again, that’s normal in poor areas , you would know if you travel a little bit more.
    I don’t even know what kind of article this is. Whether it’s about beata Mariam or its about some crooks. Lol

    What good experienced have you got by visiting Beata Mariam? You didn’t even mentioned any good stuff or any great experience you had, but cherry picking bad experience. C’mon bro. The real cause is suffering. Maybe you should take some essey class.

    DAWIT- why would you bash you bro for any reason? Can’t you come up with any argument?
    But that says it all about the situations we got down there.

  8. Mr Justin. How dare u call the holy water dirty water. You have no right to come to our soil and disrespect us. We know why you people come here anyway. Most probably you are from a country that does not have history nor religion. By the way, if there is a fool, it is you who travelled all the way to Ethiopia and did not get the blessing of the holy water. If you were a real historian, you would have asked what holy water means to Ethiopian Orthodox Believers before you write whatever came to your mind. We know this is another way of Westerns trying to destroy the history of Ethiopia. And comparing rwanda genoicide with our holy water? You are crazy! My advise to you is… don’t ever come back. Forget Ethiopia. The blessed land is not for you.

    • Disrespect you? I am not disrespecting you, Beta Maryam or Ethiopia or anyone that worships at Beta Maryam… You know who is disrespecting you and Beta Maryam? The greedy hypocrites, cloaking themselves in righteousness while trying to separate anyone they can from as much money as they can. Are you so blind that you cannot see that your church or your religion has corrupt members that do a disservice to your faith and to all of Ethiopia? Do you think that the corruption that plagues every other institution in the world somehow bypasses Ethiopia? Instead of blindly lashing out at someone that reports on something they observed firsthand, why don’t you open your eyes and see that the problem is not with the messenger. Your problem is with what the messenger has reported. Are you brave enough to grapple with that idea?

      • Oh, and your comment about my supposed comparison with your water to the genocide in Rwanda demonstrates that you didn’t read what I wrote at all. Why don’t you go back and actually read that comment this time – especially the very last sentence.

    • Reframe that question: Are those selling water running off of a roof to innocent Ethiopian Orthodox believers disrespectful? We watched these men collect water running out of a drain pipe (and the water was brown, so, yes, it was dirty) and hustle it inside, transfer it into a different container and then exchange it for money with Ethiopian Orthodox believers by claiming it was holy. So, yes, that water is dirty both literally and figuratively. Why do you defend the indefensible? Why are you defending those that prey on the poor, the weak and the needy? If you don’t see a problem with that greed, you are part of the problem yourself and it is YOU that is disrespecting Beta Maryam and Ethiopia itself.

      I can anticipate that you’ll say I didn’t understand what I say because I’m just a dumb, white foreigner… How do you explain our Ethiopian friends that were with us being disgusted by what was happening as well? They’ve lived in Addis their whole lives… Are you going to try and suggest that they not understand what they saw either? Ethiopia has so much potential, but it won’t achieve that potential if people such as yourself continue to attack the messengers rather than focusing on the message itself. You’re letting your pride blind you to the predators and parasites that attach themselves to all institutions.

      • Bro take a chill pill.. Talking about its a water that came from drainage that looks dirty…
        If you had little faith in God you would know. Do you know we even have a holy soil that believers can consume? Jesus spat on the soil and put on a blind guy to get him healed.. Are you going to him that’s dirty? If one believes that God is within them then nothing can defiled them or can make them sick.. I mean some people have more faith than others..
        Have you been to ganges river in India? It is the most parasite infested dirty water I’ve ever seen but hindu believers even drink it..
        Speaking about you’ve seen people selling holy water.. I doubt that brother.. If you seen one then he is a crook.. But please save your misunderstanding from creating confusion and flee from negative utterance.

      • I appreciate you admitting that someone selling holy water is a crook. There is no mistake about what we saw… Is it really so hard to admit that there are crooks out there and that some of them hide inside the Church?

        Yes, I have seen the Ganges and your description of it is 100% correct. The idea of drinking that water is disgusting to me and you seem to have some doubts about doing that yourself. If it makes them happy though – whatever… I feel the same way about your holy water or holy soil (no, I didn’t know about that). If it makes you happy – whatever… If you go back and read what I wrote, my criticism is directed at those that scammed the believers and on the believers that allowed themselves to be scammed.

      • I agree there are lots of crooks in the church.. I’m not even disagreeing with you on that.. But it’s the way you discribed things like peoples faith in holy water almost moking. Yeah I’ve been to ganges river.. I wouldnt touch the river with a stick let alone to swim in it.. But the point I was making is.. Some people faith on things are stronger than other..
        I think you offended lots of people in this article.. Maybe you should check on how to make it rather positive.

    • I know that someone that collects muddy rainwater from a puddle and sells it to desperately poor people is not someone you should be defending.

  9. Ok now I am trying to understand ur point. But the first impression that anybody who reads that paragraph gets is that selling unclean water as holy water is a normal daily activity in the church and that all the priests there do that all the time. This seems the message that u want to share to those people around the whole world who want to see Ethiopia. That is what got me and others disappointed. So if you realy care about Ethiopia and if you have respect for the religion and the church,then you shouldnt generalize 1 or 2 incident (eventhough i still dont believe that priests did that purposely to get money. Either u went on one of the days of the 13th month where most people including me take the rain water for drinking since it is holy water, or people still insist on taking the filtered water because of their strong belief or it is outsiders that do that on purpose to ruin the church’s name…may be protestants.)and if you saw something like what you said u saw, you shouldnt describe it as if it is a normal routine of the church. you should have at first three good things before talking about the bad . You should rewrite your paragraph Mr Justin.

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