Debre Berhan Salassie Church

Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Gonder, Amhara, Ethiopia
Last stop of the day was Church of Debre Birhan Selassle, built by Emperor Eyasu II (also known as Birhan Seged, "He to Whom the Light Bows") in the 17th Century. It was named Debre Birhan, "Mountain of Light," after the Emperor's nickname as well as in honour of the church of the same name in Shewa.

At the Debre Birhan Church in Shewa, a miraculous apparition of the Holy Light of God is said to have occurred in the Middle Ages during the reign of Emperor Zera Yacob the Great. In exchange for the right of using its name, the Gondar church paid the Shewan church an annual tribute.

When the Mahdist Dervishes of the Sudan sacked the city of Gondar in 1888, they burned down every church in the city except Debre Birhan Selassie. According to local legend, when the Mahdist soldiers approached the church, a swarm of bees descended on the compound of the church and kept the soldiers back, and the Archangel Michael himself stood before the large wooden gates with a flaming sword drawn.

Shoes off and females enter on the right hand side. This church was not like the others being round but rectangular.

The outside of Debre Birhan Selassie is rather plain. Surrounded by 12 round towers representing the 12 apostles. The larger 13th tower (entrance gate) symbolises Christ and is shaped to resemble the Lion of Judah. It's interior has made it one of Ethiopia's top tourist attractions.

The walls depict biblical scenes and saints and the ceiling is covered with the faces of hundreds of angels with their cherubic faces. Actually there’s space for 135 cherubs, though 13 have been erased by water damage. They are probably the most famous single example of ecclesiastical art in Ethiopia. The southern wall has separate scenes of the life of Christ while the northern wall has various saints.

See in the bottom left one of my photos the fearsome depiction of the devilish Bosch-like depiction of hell surrounded by flames and the Prophet Mohammed atop a camel being led by a devil.

Icons of the Holy Trinity (three identical men with halos) and the Crucifixion have pride of place above the entrance to the Holy of Holies.

Above the floor of the church are the curtained windows of the second story stall from which Emperor Eyasu II and his mother Empress Mentewab would look down on the ceremonies.

In amongst the other tour groups inside the small church, our local guide demonstrated the drums still being used.

The day that I didn't take my Canon Powershot there was a green parrot bird high in the juniper tree. Africa Love bird. Murphy's Law strikes again!

What to have for dinner? Didn't want another national dish after that buffet lunch nor a pasta base meal so it was a Fasil Lodge Special Burger 75 birr / NZ$5 / US$3.70 plus their other local Dashen beer 18 birr / NZ$1.20 / US$.90c. The bun was a bit big!

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