I Ain’t No Queen of Sheba

 

Christmas in Lalibella

Christmas in Lalibella

“Baby, you know I ain’t no Queen of Sheba” (Thing called Love; Bonnie Raitt). I didn’t go to Ethiopia to discover Sheba but rather to photograph ancient religious ceremonies, unique Gelada baboons and native indigenous tribes. But after engaging our guide Danny, with rudimentary questions about Ethiopia’s history, I was sucked into the quasi-historical tale of Ethiopia’s early Queen traveling to meet Israel’s King Solomon and spawning a son Menelik who Ethiopians regard as the founder and first Emperor of 10th century BC Ethiopia. Menelik is customarily credited for bringing the original Ark of the Covenant to Ethiopia where believers say it currently resides in an Aksum church.

As if this wasn’t a dizzying enough historical journey, Haile Selassie, Ethiopia’s last reigning emperor claimed to be the 225th descendent of King Solomon. Wow!…..my photographic journey had turned into an Indiana Jones script!

These traditional beliefs intertwining the Old Testament and the Solomonic dynasty with the fourth century introduction of Christianity form the basis of today’s Eastern Orthodox Ethiopian Church. Although Ethiopians consider Axsum to be the heart of Christianity in Ethiopia, the modest town of Lalibella is its soul.

For Lalibella is home to eleven rock-hewn churches which are a wondrous testament to what ancient Ethiopians were able to accomplish with a few hand tools and a mission to honor their faith. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the churches were not built… but rather sculpted from top to bottom from huge monolithic red blocks of volcanic rock .

St Georges Church

St Georges Church

St George’s church is the cleanest example of the task. Built around the turn of the first millennium, laborers working from top to bottom, initially excavated all of the solid rock around the church. This was the easy part. Then they hollowed out the church from bottom to top, created windows, steps, and various other decorative touches inside the church….all with simple hand tools.

Drummers drumming

Drummers drumming

The Christmas Eve ceremonial mass held in St. Mary’s church was a stunning cross-pollination of traditional Christian rites and world-class performance art. Attended by thousands of religious pilgrims and performed by hundreds of white-robed priests, the pageantry in the form of singing, chanting, and cavalcades of umbrella toting processionals went on for many hours into the night and culminated in a final regal morning processional by the senior prelates outside the church.

Giving Praise

Giving Praise

Walking to Lalibella

Walking to Lalibella

Lalibella is a dusty town of about 20,000 inhabitants in northern Ethiopia. During the church’s Christmas celebrations 50,000 religious pilgrims, many of whom walk long distances, attend the ceremonies. Because of differences between the Ethiopan calendar and the more commonly used Gregorian calendar, Christmas in Ethiopia occured this year on January 7th.

Getting Close

Getting Close

Many of the churches are connected with tunnels and trenches and throngs of pilgrims use these pathways to visit the churches after the ceremonies conclude.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comtemplation

Contemplation

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Leaving the church

The light flowing through this portal lit up this young girl in a very arresting way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most of the pilgrims take advantage of specially designated camping areas around town where large sprawling masses of families alight and whose daily life is on display as we walked through the camping areas. In a short time we saw livestock being slaughtered for the nightly meal, women cooking in large pots over open fires, large prayer groups, and frolicking children everywhere.

Cooking on the open fire

Cooking on the open fire

Looking over the campground

Looking over the campground

This pilgrim climbed onto an elevated perch in a small maintenance building and used it to survey campground life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Serving Tea

Serving Tea

Preparing Lunch

Preparing Lunch

This is a common scene as women (and it was all women) prepare meals for their families over open fires. This looks to be a very common Ethiopian dish of meat with shiro and berbere spices.

In the Light

In the Light

Thank you for reading my latest blog entry. If you thought it was worthy of your time and you hadn’t already done so, please take the opportunity to subscribe by clicking the “Follow” button in the middle of the right side of this page. You will receive an email asking you to confirm your subscription. Also, you can share this blog entry on your Facebook page by clicking the share button below or you can email it to folks by clicking on the “Email” button.

Frank

Shrewsbury, MA

Aside | This entry was posted in Africa, Christmas, Lalibella, Rock Hewn Churches. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to I Ain’t No Queen of Sheba

  1. Cathy says:

    Thank you I enjoyed this blog post. Your photographs are magnificent as always… But what brings it all to life is your sensitivity and desire to truly experience the culture. Your respect of the people that you photograph comes through. Thank you also for the education also, I always learn so much in your posts.

    Like

  2. Susan Flickinger says:

    Frank, This is a great narrative. It really brings me back to our time in Lalibela. I really enjoyed your photos too.

    Like

  3. Adrienne Landry says:

    Kathy expressed my words and feelings exactly. Thank you for sharing. I am especially fond of your curiosity and respect of your photographed subjects.

    Like

  4. fwbinder says:

    Thanks so much for the positive commentary. I appreciate it very much.

    Like

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