IN THE SKY
- ETHIOPIA -
Reaching the "Church in the Sky" requires scaling the cliff face of a sandstone pinnacle with a 650-foot drop.
If you think going to a normal church can be an enlightening experience, imagine going to worship in a rock-hewn painted cave atop a towering sandstone pinnacle, only reachable via a daredevil climb with 650-foot drops on all sides.
At Abuna Yemata Guh in northern Ethiopia, this risky and thrilling experience is common practice for a few dedicated priests. The monolithic place of worship is said to be the world’s most inaccessible and dangerous church, reachable only by a 45-minute ascent.
The journey has cliff faces to scale, rickety bridges to cross, and narrow ledges to traverse. After crossing through the valley that underlies the church, you must ascend the half-mile-high sandstone pinnacle, searching for rare footholds to avoid the long drop. Adding to the general sense of dread, the route passes by an open-air tomb filled with the skeletal remains of deceased priests (although it’s said that none of the priests died from falling off the cliff).
If the intense climb and the gorgeous view of the valley below aren’t enough to take your breath away, the interior of the church surely will. The cave’s ceiling is covered by two beautiful frescoes, featuring intricate patterns, religious imagery, and the faces of nine of the twelve apostles of Christ. The church also contains an Orthodox Bible with vibrant, colorful sheets made of goatskin. Abuna Yemata Church is so sacred that some Ethiopian parents even risk bringing their babies all the way to the top of the cliff to have them baptized there.
The church is named after Father Yemata, a priest who carved the church out of the cliff face in the 5th century. Some say he chose the high location to escape enemies, while others believe it was an attempt to find true divinity. Either way, his rock-hewn masterpiece has provided a unique opportunity for Ethiopian Christians to demonstrate their commitment to their faith in epic fashion.