The Most Inaccessible Church On On Earth Is Located In Ethiopia

Source: National Geographic / Action Tours

Standing at the edge of the world, 2,500 feet up, is Ethiopia’s ‘Abuna Yemata Guh’. This isn’t just any place of worship; it’s a marvel carved into a cliff’s side, surrounded by a breathtaking 650-foot drop.

How did our ancestors create such a masterpiece, defying the fundamental law of physics? Let’s explore the ins and outs of this sacred site, where every stone tells a story of faith, courage, and the extraordinary human spirit.

A Church In The Sky

Abuna Yemata Guh is a very special church in the Hawzen area of Ethiopia’s Tigray Region. The entrance to the church is located at the face of a cliff, about 2,850 meters above sea level. What’s more? The only way to make the journey is by foot.

Source: Flickr/Chang Ju Wu

Pilgrims looking to visit Abuna Yemata Guh can only make the approximately 3km uphill trek. This makes the pilgrimage to this religious edifice one of the most physically demanding in the world.

The Church Is A Part Of The Ethiopian Orthodox Denomination

Abuna Yemata Guh is a part of the Ethiopian Orthodox denomination, a faith that resonates with roughly 50% of Ethiopia’s population. According to local legend, the church’s extraordinary elevation is more than just a geographical feature; it’s a spiritual one.

Source: Wikimedia / flickr/ellybrown

People believe that its lofty position, high up in the cliffs, was deliberately chosen to bring worshippers physically closer to God. This high place means more than just how far up it is – it’s a sign of trying to get closer to God and reaching higher in your spirit. This idea in itself is a big part of what the church is and what its people believe.

The Journey Of Faith And Courage

The journey to Abuna Yemata Guh can be summarized in one word – Brave. The pilgrims’ journey starts with a natural rock bridge featuring a deep drop of 820 feet on both sides. Then, they walk on a small wooden bridge to the hardest part: climbing a straight-up rock wall.

Source: Wikimedia/cotterillmike

They do this climb with just their hands and feet, and without shoes, to show respect for the holy place. The last part is walking on a very narrow ledge, only 50 cm wide, next to a huge drop of 980 feet. Only the courageous can make this trip.

This Church Is Very Old

This church is really old, from the 5th century. Inside, it has a curved ceiling and walls with old paintings that are still colorful and pretty. Walking up to the church is like going back in time.

Source: Wikimedia Commons/ Flickr/denismartin

You can see how our ancestors from time immemorial made something beautiful and important right out of the rock.

The Miracle Of The Rugged Path

Father Assefa, who is a priest at the old Abuna Yemata Guh church, is full of faith and follows old traditions.

Source: Wikimedia /Evan Williams

He says with confidence, “The paths up to the church are blessed. Nobody has ever died while climbing them. Our patron saint saves those who fall with his wind, returning them to the ledge from halfway down.”

An Echo Across Time

This belief is not just his own; it’s something that many generations have believed. His grandfather was also a priest here.

Source: Unsplash/Vidar Nordli-Mathisen

For hundreds of years, priests from this church have been buried in the rocks of this holy place. It almost feels as if you can sense their unwavering conviction echoing across time.

The Legends Of Abuna Yamata

The church of Abuna Yemata Guh was built by Abuna Yemata. There are different stories about why he chose this unique location, so to speak. Some people say he picked it to stay safe from enemies, while others think he wanted to be closer to God.

Source: Wikimedia/Nccnjeck / Flickr/Guy Colborne

No matter why he did it, his work in creating this church in the Rock has given Christians in Ethiopia a very special way to show their love for their religion. Going up to this holy place is not just hard physically, but it also shows how strong their faith is, in a really amazing way.

The Enduring Legacy Of The Nine Saints

Historically, Abuna Yemata is one of nine respected saints who traveled down from faraway places like Syria, Constantinople, or Rome to Ethiopia around the late 5th century.

Source: Wikimedia /flickr

Their mission was noble and transformative – to introduce Christianity to the region. This church, carved into the cliffs, is not just a place of worship, but also a lasting tribute to their enduring spiritual legacy in Ethiopia.

A Timeless Gallery Of Early Christian Traditions

The church of Abuna Yemata Guh is not just a remarkable architectural feat – it’s also a treasure trove of some of the world’s oldest Christian art.

Source: Flickr/Dirk Rosseel

Inside this holy place, the walls are made of sandstone and are covered with beautiful portraits of key figures from the Christian Bible. These ancient artworks also bring to life various biblical parables – each painting telling a story rich in religious heritage.

There Are More Paintings From The Old Testament

The artwork inside the sandstone walls of the Abuna Yemata Guh features figures from the Old Testament, outnumbering those from the New Testament.

Source: Wikimedia/Moleskine

Remarkably, the dry air and minimal humidity of the region have acted as natural preservers, maintaining these precious paintings in a state of near-original perfection. This extraordinary preservation offers a rare, unaltered look into how Christians made art a long time ago.

A Studio Of Early Christian Art In Ethiopia

The old paintings in the church of Abuna Yemata Guh are very important because they are some of the first signs of Christianity in Ethiopia.

Source: Wikimedia/Nccnjeck

They mostly show pictures of the nine saints and the twelve apostles, who are key figures in the Christian faith. Among these special artworks are the oldest icons, including some that are in two or three parts (diptychs and triptychs), and they go back to the 15th century.

Starting The Journey To Abuna Yemata Guh

According to Lonely Planet, the first 45-minute climb to Abuna Yemata Guh is moderately challenging. It has some steep parts where you need to be careful where you put your feet.

Source: Wikimedia/cotterillmike / Flickr/Exodus Travels

Guides help climbers in the last, harder part of the climb. They have ropes, and it costs about 150 Birr – about 2.65 USD – for their help.

Staying Safe On The Journey

At Abuna Yemata Guh church, the journey to the top is supported by the attentive guidance of local experts. These guides are there every step of the way to make sure visitors know the best and safest places to step and climb.

Source: Wikimedia /cotterillmike

They are really important for helping with the ropes, which makes the tough climb easier and safer for everyone who wants to see this remarkable piece of history and spirituality.

Completing The Journey To Abuna Yemata Guh

The last two minutes of the climb are the scariest. You need a lot of bravery. This part includes walking on a narrow ledge with a scary drop of 200 meters below.

Source: Flickr//Petr Meissner

This last scramble truly tests the mettle of those looking to visit this ancient church.

The Abuna Yemata Guh

The Abuna Yemata Guh church is a cave in itself. The interior of the cave is very different from its rough outside. Inside, visitors are not only captivated by the ancient artwork and architectural marvels but also by the breathtaking view of the surrounding landscape

Source: Wikimedia/Evan Williams

From this spot, you can see a wide, beautiful view that goes way past the church and shows the vast, beautiful terrain of the region. The mix of spiritual art inside and the natural beauty outside makes Abuna Yemata Guh a truly remarkable and unforgettable destination.

A Place Of Physical And Spiritual Peace

When you go inside the church, the change from the rough outside to the inside is really noticeable. The inside of the church is bigger than you might expect, considering it’s a cave.

Source: Unsplash/Jakayla Toney

The light comes in softly, making the old wall paintings glow. Inside, it’s cool and calm, which is very different from the dry and hot outside. This makes the church a place of peace for both the spirit and the body.

The Extraordinary Human Spirit

Even though the climb is scary, the Abuna Yemata Guh church is still a place where people go to pray a lot.

Source: Flickr/stefano mariconti

What’s even more amazing is the fact that this includes moms with children on their backs, pregnant women, infants, and even the elderly – all of whom bravely go up the steep cliffs to attend church services.

A Rich Heritage Of Church Architecture

Ethiopia is famous for its amazing church buildings, which come in three kinds: monoliths (made from one piece of rock), semi-monoliths (partly made from rock), and cave churches.

Source: Flickr/stefano mariconti

There are about 35 churches carved into rocks in Ethiopia, which is more than anywhere else in the world. Each kind of church gives a special look into the religious and cultural past of Ethiopia, making them interesting places to visit for both people on religious journeys and other travelers.

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Mary Scrantin

Written by Mary Scrantin

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