My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Monday, 11 January 2016

Built to house the Ark of the Covenant - Debre Birhan Selassie

Heavily laden donkeys on way to market 

Airport Ethiopian style at Lalibela
 It is Saturday, market day, in Lalibela, and we are set to fly to Gondar, the "Camelot of Africa", famous for its medieval castles and churches. In particular we will enjoy a tour of the Royal Enclosure of Fasil Ghebbi and the most incredibly beautiful church interior.

cattle on way to market
As our coach makes its way along the twisting road towards the airport we pass swarms of people and animals walking in both directions, to and from the market. This is subsistence living. People sell to buy what they need most in that moment, be it food or fuel or clothes or animals. But market is about much more than that. Johannes tells us that the market is also a place to spot stolen goods, to find and court the girls, to find mediators to settle disputes of all kinds, and simply for communication, the oil of human relationship and society.

entrance to the church
The federal police check our visas at the airport perimeter, then all our bags go through security screening at the entrance into the building and we go through the usual full security search ourselves after check in to go through to departures. In the light of the awful Paris terrorist attack that we have just heard about this all seems very essential. There was a French party at our hotel last night in Lalibela and they were visibly and justifiably distressed by the news back home. 

I wrote in my diary for the day: "Jesus wept. God must be weeping".

Icons of Holy Trinity and Crucifixion
above the Holy of  Holies entrance 
Mayleko Lodge hotel - lovely
"Jesus wept" - John 11: v. 35 - the shortest verse in the Bible, with a load of significance. Jesus wept because of his humanity, weeping with those who weep, because he is full of love for mankind. How he must weep now.

It is a very short flight from Lalibela to Gondar and soon we are back in a coach for the 10 minute drive to our hotel - Mayleko Lodge - I had worried about this - thinking of Gatwick and Heathrow and flight paths and noise! But I didn't have to. There are only a couple or so flights a day it seems - and the planes are small anyway and quiet. And the hotel is fabulous! We all have our own cottages - in the traditional local thatched style, with huge rooms, spotlessly clean and with all mod cons. including huge walk-in showers (Just use the water for a shower when it is available - like much of Ethiopia water is scarce and the supply temperamental) and massive balconies where we can soak up the sunshine and the view. And it is hot. A few take advantage of the short while available before lunch to enjoy a swim in the pool. The birdlife here is super - we are surrounded by birdsong in pretty gardens with different coloured hibiscus lining the paths leading up to the pool and the restaurant at the top of the site, which affords great views over the countryside.
vultures outside the church
wall paintings

Soon we are back in the coach for our first attraction of the day - Debre Birhan Selassie (or Mountain of the Enlightened Trinity) - the only church in Gondar which escaped the 1888 Mahdist invasion from the Sudan unscathed - legend tells us that an angry swarm of bees intervened to keep the soldiers back, with the help of the Archangel Michael holding a flaming sword. All the other churches in the city were torched. 

Debre Birhan Selassie
This church is incredible for the beautiful eighteenth paintings that totally adorn its inner walls and ceiling. 

school books for sale on Gondar pavement
They variously represent the Life of Christ, the lives of early Christian saints and their rather nasty martyrdoms - all watched over by hundreds of painted angels on the ceiling and arches. The church was built in the 1690s to the same dimensions as the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, reputedly to house the Ark of the Covenant when it was brought over to Ethiopia. We will visit the church again tomorrow, Sunday, to observe a service in progress. 

The street sights as we drive through Gondar are endlessly fascinating. Blue tuk tuks everywhere - hundreds are watching a boxing match in one of the large squares - street vendors everywhere - we even see our first motor car!! 

1 comment:

  1. Interesting church from the 1690s! It looks smaller than I imagined Solomon's temple to have been.