The Spirit of a Pure Christianity: Exploring Ethiopia’s Stunning Churches

Lalibela, Ethiopia. (Photo: Lvgeny Lebedev/The independent)

The Independent

BY EVGENY LEBEDEV

I wake up and don’t have a clue where I am. There is barely any light, hardly enough to pierce the curtains. But it’s not the gloom or the early start that has left me confused. It’s the ear-splitting chanting.

The noise is in no language I’ve ever heard. Yet the sound is familiar, even if the language is not. I have heard it in Istanbul, the Gulf, parts of Jerusalem. It sounds almost exactly like an imam calling the faithful to prayer.

Yet I am in Ethiopia, the cradle of an ancient form of Christianity, and the hotel at which I am staying is in Lalibela, one of the country’s most Christian sites; there are no mosques nearby. So what is going on?

Stepping out on to my balcony, I see the hillside opposite covered with thousands of people dressed in white cotton robes. They are making their way up a series of dirt tracks, their feet throwing up a haze of red dust. The chanting seems to be coming from the hilltop. But there is no sign of a church or indeed any building up there. All that can be made out is the rough outline of part of a giant cross, seemingly carved into the ground.

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