Yemrehanna Kristos Church – Ethiopia - Atlas Obscura

Yemrehanna Kristos Church

An ancient Ethiopian cave church is endangered by the simple building of a road. 


The ancient Yemrehanna Kristos Church in Ethiopia is not only located in a cave, but may be one of the most elaborate churches of its kind in the entire country. 

Believed to have been built between the 11th and 12th century, the wood and plaster church is nestled inside a natural cavern that has likely kept the church from deteriorating completely over its centuries of service. The exterior of the church face consists of stacked layers of protruding stonework interlaced with wooden beams. The windows are covered with wooden cruciform designs and the main door is said to have been taken from a nearby palace. Inside the church, the walls are covered in wood paneling. There are also tall wooden arches which have delicate designs carved into their every surface. 

Over the centuries, the church has been a relatively popular pilgrimage site where devoted pilgrims were known to come to die. Their bones are buried behind the church into the cave wall.

The church is still in active service to this day, and a security wall has been erected over the cave mouth to keep the site safe. Although the church is far off the beaten path, a new road has brought newfound attention and visitors which may jeopardize the safety of the ancient architecture. In the interest of retaining the site’s unique historical value, the Yemrehanna Kristos Church was recently placed on the 2014 World Monuments Watch list of important places to preserve. 

In partnership with KAYAK

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