Black Jerusalem is the name given to Lalibela, the ancient northern capital of Abyssinia and monastic city. Due to its eleven cave churches concealed in the volcanic rock, the place is venerated as a center of paramount importance for Ethiopian Coptic Christianity. Every believer is required to make there a pilgrimage at least once in his or her life. Continue reading...
I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon. Look not upon me, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me: my mother’s children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept. Song of Songs 1. The Good Book.
Ethiopian Orthodox Church claims to be the descendant of the King Solomon
Prior to the arrival in Africa of the European Christian missions, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has some roots in the Syriac churches and the Coptic Church of Egypt, shows evidence of influence of Judaism and claims to be the descendant of the King Solomon. Upholding a strong tradition of ecumenism, Ethiopia is also the home of the first mosque on the African land, the Mosquee Al Nejashi. In power from 1974 to 1991, the Marxist-Leninist junta put an end to the status of the Ethiopian Orthodox church as a state religion. At the fall of the Derg regime, Ethiopia has remained a secular country.
Today, the Orthodox Church maintains its influence but hardly competes with evangelical missionaries and the rising of radical Islam in Ethiopia.
Black Jerusalem under the rainfall is even more mysterious
Under the rainfall, Lalibela the ancient capital of Black Jerusalem looks even more mysterious.
While entering the cave church Debra Sina, a female pilgrim takes off her shoes before kissing the stone around the doorway. The church communicates with the church Golgotha whose access is denied to women. Many Orthodox churches are closed to women since the destruction of churches by the warrior queen Judith in the fifth century AD.
Downwards of the village appears at the bottom of a cliff a hint of the majestic cross-shaped cave church Giyorgis Bete. A monk seating in his small workshop shows me his goatskin paintings of biblical scenes. He passes on his knowledge to young student monks.
Looking for an evocation of the Queen of Sheba in Axum
After Black Jerusalem, let’s heading to Axum, another mythic and biblical city. Axum is another former capital of Abyssinia. Still alive legend suggests that the Ark of the Covenant brought from Jerusalem by Prince Menelik 1, the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, is kept in the monastery St. Mary of Zion.
Lake Tana, a sanctuary for monasteries
North-western Lake Tana, largest lake of Ethiopia, gives rise to the Blue Nile. Its many islands offer a sanctuary to the monasteries.
Pilgrims healing on Mount Entoto, not far from Addis Ababa
Let’s now head to Addis Ababa, modern Ethiopia’s capital almost without remnants.
On Mount Entoto, half an hour drive from the capital, the Emperor Menelik made built in 1882 the Church St. Mary. Since this date, patients crowd to the place for healing.
On this rainy and cool day, pilgrims hidden under their robes are standing on their knees in front of the icons of the Virgin Mary in the courtyard of the church.
The rainy season has gone on for several days. Suddenly a storm arises. Pilgrims quickly leave the courtyard to keep out of the rain.
The land of Black Jerusalem has many other places of orthodox faith.
A story made in July 2010.