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Abuna Yemata Guh Church, Ethiopia - Famous Churches
2463    Dibyendu Banerjee    02/07/2020

Nestled on a cliff, at a height of 8,460 feet (2,580 m) in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, Abuna Yemata Guh is a monolithic church, known as the Church in the sky. Notable for its painted ceiling, that look like a dome and the decorative wall paintings, the church was said to be hewn in the 6th century by St Abuna Yemata, one of the Nine Saints, when he arrived in the region from Syria. It is traditionally believed that the Nine Saints originated from Rome, Constantinople and Syria, between the end of the 5th and the beginning of 6th century.


It is a mystery as to why Abuna Yemata chose the apparently inaccessible spot to carve the church, but it is assumed that probably he wanted to make safe against any enemy attack. In fact, it is not easy to reach the entrance of the church, as the journey has cliff faces to scale, rickety bridges to cross and narrow ledges to negotiate. After crossing through the valley that underlies the church, one has to ascend strenuously the half-mile-high vertical sandstone pinnacle with hand and footholds in the rock and then cross a very narrow, 50 cm wide ledge facing a cliff of 980 feet (300 m) sheer drop. Nevertheless, once reached at the destination, the visitors are rewarded with a breathtakingly stunning view of the gorgeous valley.

abuna yemata guh church
abuna yemata guh church

The exhausting route passes by an open-air tomb filled with the skeletal remains of deceased priests. However, it is said that nobody has ever died, tripped or had an accident during the ascent or decent and it is said that the nine saints who live in these mountains have kept them safe.


The ceiling of the cave, shaped like the dome the church is beautifully decorated with two beautiful frescoes, featuring intricate patterns, religious imagery, along with the faces of nine of the twelve apostles of Christ. The walls are also painted, depicting more figures from the Old Testament than the New Testament. The dry air and lack of humidity in the cave has helped to preserve the age-old frescos in reasonably good condition. The church also contains an invaluable Orthodox Bible with vibrant and colorful sheets made of goatskin. 

abuna yemata guh church
Entrance to the cave church.
abuna yemata guh church
Interior of the church

For a Christian or a non-Christian, the rock-hewn Abuna Yemata Church is a place of absolute peace and tranquility. It has provided a tough opportunity for the Ethiopian Christians to demonstrate their sincere commitment to their faith. Despite the steep climb, some parents even take the deadly risk of bringing their babies all the way to the top of the cliff to have them baptized there.

abuna yemata guh church
The ceiling

However, to visit the Abuna Yemata Guh Church is not an easy task and it is next to impossible for an outsider to visit it without a guide, as the route is not signposted.

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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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