Despite Yemrehanna Kristos being such an extraordinary site, very few people reward themselves with a visit. And a reward it is for this location is beautiful, the priest is friendly and there are even piles of dead bodies to see.
The church is about an hour and a half from Lalibela by 4WD.
Yemrehanna Kristos is unique in the area because it was built rather than excavated. And, in fact, Yemrehanna Kristos likely predates Lalibela’s more famous churches by at least 80 years.
The whole church sits on a foundation of carefully laid olive-wood panels which “float” it perfectly above the marshy ground below.
Behind the church lies a pile of mummified bodies (the priest told us there were around 10,000 of them): some are pilgrims who’ve come here to die over the centuries, others are said to be those of the workmen brought in from far away Jerusalem to help construct Yemrehanna Kristos.
The whole complex sits within a cave roofed by basalt lava flows.
The village at the base of the mountain containing Yemrehanna Kristos seems desperately poor. When we arrive children are playing soccer in the main square with a piece of garbage and a squadron of deformed adults and children shuffle out to beg from us as soon as we exit our vehicle. A few indifferent men are squatting near a wall chewing khat while others are curled up asleep in the mud.
The trail up the mountain:
The forest along the way is dotted with small, primitive huts:
The rifle this guy was using looked like it would have been old during world War I. Probably has a great story behind it:
This structure sits next to the cave entrance to Yemrehanna Kristos:
And this is a view of the cave entrance:
And a view into the cave… The lighting is poor, but my camera was having a hard time with the extreme contrasts between the dark cave interior and the intense light from outside:
This is the view when gazing out from the cave entrance:
The Yemrehanna Kristos church itself:
Inside the church:
Marble arches covered with carvings (again inside the church):
The caretaker priest:
This is where the priest sleeps inside the cave:
You’ll know you’re close to the body pile when you start seeing things like this scattered across the floor:
Stacks of bodies piled high:
I’m doing my best here to show you more of the bodies – I’m holding a flashlight on this particular one:
This picture made the hike up more than worth it: