Journey to Jerusalem of Africa

A hermit reads verses from the bible as he sits in a cranny in the red volcanic rock surrounding the Lalibela churchesA hermit reads verses from the bible in a cranny | S00513 | buy

 

Location: Lalibela, Ethiopia
Date: 2012
Photographer: Gali Tibbon

Ethiopian faith radiates from two cities: Jerusalem and Lalibela, in Ethiopia’s highlands. ‘Jerusalem of Africa’ is one of the names given to Lalibela, also known as ‘Black Jerusalem’. It is famous for its 12th century monolithic churches carved out of the ‘living rock’, and is one of the world’s great wonders. These exceptional shrines are said to have been built during the 25-year reign of King Lalibela – with, as legend has it, more than a little help from the angels. Lalibela became a holy city after the capture of Jerusalem by Muslims (1187AC); since pilgrimage to the Holy Land was no longer possible, King Lalibela declared the site as New Jerusalem. Ethiopian faithful make pilgrimage to Lalibela at least once in their lifetime. Every year thousands of pilgrims make their way to the sacred city of Lalibela by bus, by foot or by air, to celebrate Christmas. Fascinated by their strong devotion, I travelled to Ethiopia three times to further focus my reportage. The pilgrimage, its faithful worshippers, the rituals and ceremonies, some of which are very ancient and preserved to this day, seem almost to illustrate the Old Testament. I was unable to avoid the feeling of going back in time – way back. In the days leading up to Christmas, Lalibela becomes the beating heart of Ethiopian Orthodox Christian faith. Tens of thousands of worshippers flock through tunnels and passageways connecting the churches, rushing from one shrine to another in their quest to visit all eleven holy sites. On Christmas Eve, an open-air ceremony is held at the Bet Maryam church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The compound fills with the white-clad faithful, with those lucky enough to get in filling up the church’s courtyard as they stand shoulder to shoulder. Many more are left outside on the surrounding hills. It is a truly biblical scene.
 

Devoted rural people hiking for days and even weeks to get to Lalibela for the Christmas ceremonies that last for 3 days and 3 nights. Every year, just before Christmas day (Julian calendar) thousands of pious Christian orthodox worshippers make pilgrimage to Lalibela, a small town in Ethiopia's highlands, known as Jerusalem of Africa or Black Jerusalem. Lalibela is famous for its 13th century monolithic churches, carved out of the living rock and one of the world's great wonders.Devoted rural people hiking for days to get to Lalibela for the Christmas ceremonies | S00501 | buy

 

An Ethiopian monk walks with his cross shaped stick through the tunnels and passageways connecting the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela.Monk walks through the tunnels and passageways connecting the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela | S00503 | buy

 

Devoted rural people gaze at the rock-hewn crossed-shaped church of Bet Giyorgis, the most famous of Lalibela's churches.Devoted rural people gaze at the rock-hewn crossed-shaped church of Bet Giyorgis | S00504 | buy

 

Barefoot pilgrims stand outside the Bet Giyorgis church; Ethiopian Orthodox worshippers remove their shoes when entering a church or while standing on holy ground.Barefoot pilgrims stand outside the Bet Giyorgis church | S00506 | buy

 

Pilgrims gather to watch as an infertile worshipper is lowered into a baptism pool with a rope held by priests; according to local faith the holy water has fertility powers that will allow her to conceive. Pilgrims gather to watch as an infertile worshipper is lowered into a baptism pool | S00508 | buy

 

Deacons carry processional crosses at the Bet Mariam church early morning on Christmas day.Deacons carry processional crosses at the Bet Mariam church early morning on Christmas day | S00509 | buy

 

Dozens of deacons and priests in white tunics and turbans chant and pray on the rim of the pit overlooking the Bet Mariam church early morning on Christmas day. The priests high above represent the angels while the priests in the courtyard represent world's people, the chanting is a symbol of unity between heaven and earth on Christmas day. Deacons and priests chant and pray on the rim of the pit overlooking the Bet Mariam church | S00510 | buy

 

Pilgrims gather around the crossed-shaped church of Bet Giyorgis as a dove flies over.Pilgrims gather around the crossed-shaped church of Bet Giyorgis | S00514 | buy

 

Pilgrims and priests pray after morning mass in the courtyard connecting Bet Golgotha church and Bet Mariam.Pilgrims and priests pray after morning mass in the courtyard | S00515 | buy

 

White-clad faithful pray with first light on Christmas day after spending all night on a hill overlooking the Bet Mariam church.White-clad faithful pray with first light on Christmas day | S00516 | buy

 

Pilgrims and priests leave morning mass at Bet Golgotha church.Pilgrims and priests leave morning mass at Bet Golgotha church | S00518 | buy

 

A ray of light penetrates into the church from a cross shaped window as a pilgrim walks by.A ray of light penetrates into the church from a cross shaped window as a pilgrim walks by | S00520 | buy

 
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