Ethiopia / Places We Go

Yemrehanna Kristos, Ethiopia

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.

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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.

needs to be moved to Yemrehanna Kristos

yemrehanna kristos

yemrehanna kristos

The trail up the mountain:

yemrehanna kristos

The forest along the way is dotted with small, primitive huts:

yemrehanna kristos

yemrehanna kristos

The rifle this guy was using looked like it would have been old during world War I. Probably has a great story behind it:

yemrehanna kristos

yemrehanna kristos

yemrehanna kristos

yemrehanna kristos

yemrehanna kristos

This structure sits next to the cave entrance to Yemrehanna Kristos:

yemrehanna kristos

And this is a view of the cave entrance:

yemrehanna kristos

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:

yemrehanna kristos

This is the view when gazing out from the cave entrance:

yemrehanna kristos

The Yemrehanna Kristos church itself:

Yemrehanna Kristos

yemrehanna kristos

Inside the church:

yemrehanna kristos

Marble arches covered with carvings (again inside the church):

yemrehanna kristos

The caretaker priest:

yemrehanna kristos priest

This is where the priest sleeps inside the cave:

yemrehanna kristos

The bodies

You’ll know you’re close to the body pile when you start seeing things like this scattered across the floor:

yemrehanna kristos

Stacks of bodies piled high:

yemrehanna kristos

I’m doing my best here to show you more of the bodies – I’m holding a flashlight on this particular one:

yemrehanna kristos

This picture made the hike up more than worth it:

yemrehanna kristos

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3 thoughts on “Yemrehanna Kristos, Ethiopia

  1. Pingback: Ashetan, Ethiopia « The Velvet Rocket

  2. Thank you for travel to yimrhane kristos hntsa bete mekdes /church/ ; yimrha;- means ask order for navigation = መምራት like give a way for blind. yimrhane krstos then krstos;-means jusus Christ (n) = መሲህ፤ ክርስቶስ; therefore yimrhane krstos;- means ask a permission to Jesus christ to give to us a way as we are blind.
    yimrhane krstos -ይምርሃነ ክርስቶስ/1077-1117EC./
    -he had been king for 40 years in Ethiopia at his Church now
    -He had wife/holy hzba/ as a king but he and his wife for 46 year had been keep they virgin as monks do/amazing/.they hadn’t children.
    -he built church/as we see the on this travel/ after he die called yimrhane krstos gedam and this bete mekdes have all thing as his old
    formalitty (formalities) (n) = ስርአት with one missing thing, there is big diamond(n) = አልማዝ in the kidist/inner class of mekdes/ light for the kidist;Now it is not at the place,due lost by invaded Italy stole.
    -after he die/october 23/ his kingness give to his cousin kidus gebre maryam or harbe /1117-1187/
    -As a correction the traveler say mummified body, the place have pledge = ቃልኪዳን መግባት ለስጦታ ቃልን ላለማጠፍ,or promise = ቃልኪዳን from God to be get non decade skulls of body,there is no mummified body there thanks for reading.

    • Thank you for the additional information, Yared.

      Just to clarify, my comment about the mummified bodies was not intended to imply that they were formally mummified. Rather, the bodies are in a state of arrested decay due to the dry conditions inside the cave – much as bodies are occasionally found high in the Andes that have been preserved for hundreds of years as the dry, sterile conditions had the effect of mummifying the bodies.

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