Tigray Rock-Hewn Churches
There are more than 125 rock- hewn churches are registered now in Tigrai but there are a lot hidden churches to be explore. These churches are dated back to 4thc -15thc A.D.The stupendous rock hewn churches of Tigrai most of them carved in to relatively remote cliff faces, obscure as the churches in to the sandstone cliffs of Tigrai.Most of these architectural ornaments remain in active use to day,several house paintings and other consecrated medieval artifacts ,and even one of them is imbued with an aura of mysticism that seeps from the very rock in to which they are warped .
The rock churches of Tigrai are dated back to the rule of Ezana and Saizana /Abraha and Atsibeha/,the twin kings of Aksum ,who adopted Christianity to Ethiopia in the 4thc A.D up to the 15thc . King Ezana declare christianity as the official religion in Ethiopia and built more than 44 rock hewn churches in Tigrai and finaly ,died in Abraha and Atsibeha church.
Many of the rock hewn churches of Tigrai are found along the main road ,between Mekelle and Adigrat the junction town to Adwa and Aksum ,and they are grouped under five major huddle.Some are accessible can be reached easily from the main asphalt road and the others situated off road from the main road and needs hours driving and mountain climbing over rough roads.
Abune Yemata (Guh)
Abune Yemata is one of the most majestic and awesome churche in Gheralta mountains. About 30 minutes walk to the foot of the perpendicular rock mountains of Guh (name of the area). The interior of the church can be reached after climbing 5m tall vertical pillars which is approximately 250m to 300m high cliff. This rock is notable for its extensive and perfectly preserved wall and ceiling frescoes of Old and New Testament stories, thought to date from the 15th century but local priest believe from 6th century A.D . The annual festival is taken place on the 8th November.
Debre Mariam Korkor
It is one of the biggest and most complex rock-hewn churches of Tigray . About 1 and ½ hours walk and climb from the village of Megab and it brings you to the white washed faced of a built structure church facing to the West. The interior part of this church is decorated with magnificent paintings such as paintings depicting Archangel Ruphael which is reported by Gerster to be “similar to the painting in the cathedral church of Faras”. And another painting on the Western wall shows the Virgin Mery with a circle around her abdomen which according Ivy Pearce indicates the development of Christ in Utero and such a theme was commen one in 17th century Byzantine art.
Daniel Korkor a smaller rock church with only 2 rooms which its ceiling of the domed anteroom is decorated with primitive paintings is a minutes’ walk apart.
Abreha we Atsbeha
Is one of the best and largest of the rock-hewn churches of Tigray situated 15km West of Wukro. Considered to be among the country’s earlist churches which is according to the local tradition the church was constructed in the 4th century, but some scholars estimated its date of construction to be on the 10th century but the certain is that it is built well before rock churches in Lalibela, where the level of sophistication of rock architecture reached its peak. This church is dedicated to the famous kings of Axum, the two brothers Abreha & Atsbeha who adopted Christianity in the 4th century. It is known for its extraordinary interior decoration as well as its magnificent murals from 17th century. It has a prayer cross which belongs to Abba Freminatos the 1st bishop of Ethiopia whose Ecclesiastical name was Abba Selama (father of peace). It is the site of annual pilgrimage (14th of October).
Wukro Cherkos is located in the northern edge of Wukro town. It was carved during the 4th century A.D. However, its existence for the abroad was 1st reported in England in 1868 by members of the Napier expedition who visited it on their way to Meqdella. The presence of a sand stone slab and its edifice shows a considerable resemblance with Abreha we Atsbeha and Mikael Imba churches that all have a cruciform plan and share Axumite architectural qualities that support the claim that the church dates back to Axumite period. The ceiling is beautifully decorated though fragmented and smock-blackened by the fire of Queen Judith of the 10th century. However there are a lot of beautifull Murals from 15th century depicting Angels & Saints. There are three Tabots/replica of the Ark of the Covenant/ dedicated to St. Mikael, St. Mary and St. Gebriel accommodated in the church.
Abune Abreham (Debretsion)
It’s located West of Wukro after 29km or 18 km Southeast of Hawzien. After 40 minutes gentle walk it can be reached on the top of the steep mountain. The church is entirely from a living hewn which is referred to as Abune Abreham, after the monk who founded it. The interior part of the church is decorated with fine paintings which are estimated to be from 15th century for the reasons of the simplicity of their lines and colors. But, according to some other writers and the church itself is thought to be from 4th century.Its annual festival is taken place on the 21st of Hidar (30th of November in most years) same time with Aksum St.Marry Annual festival.
Petros & Paulos
Petros & Paulos is a cave church which belongs to Peter & Pole situated east of a small village of Inda Teka Tesfay. Architecturally, this church is non-too important. But, it has a great quality of murals and paintings.Because of the difficulty in climbing and the openings created as a result of falling mortar allowing dusts and rain water washing away some of the paintings, a concerned citizen called Halefom Reta, a peasant farmer from the neighboring village carved a new monolithic rock church right at the foot of the escarpment which took him 12 years since 1982 to complete it single handedly. This probably Tigray’s last rock church hewer said that “St. Gebriel instructed him in his dreams and offered the endurance in carving this what seems superhuman structure”.
This is a rock church dedicated to St. Mikael situated in about 15 minutes gentle walk just south of the church of Petros & Paulos. This lies on 2760m above sea level on an isolated round hill. It has two wooden doors which are visible from the main road. This church has bells of stone hung in a tree just before reaching the churchyard where there are a number of graves and indigenous old tree and bushes inside. The most remarkable features of the church are its beautifully decorated dome with a Greek cross in the middle of it, ancient crosses, manuscripts, and books.
Medhanialem Adikosho is a rock-hewn church which belongs to Jesus Christ the savior of the world which can be reached after 20 minutes walk to the east of Mikael Milhaizengi. In the rock there are potholes which the local people believe to be the foot prints of St. George and his Horse. The exterior whitewashed front part of this church runs from the north end to the south end is decorated with beautiful patterns and the doors and windows of the church have massive, ornately carved wooden frames in Axsumite style and there are three-square windows on the top of this wall which is decorated with St. Andrew’s crosses. There are no paintings in the church however, the walls are hewn wonderfully. No academic authority has suggested a definite date of construction. However, according to David Buxton, considering its similarity with Debre-Damo this church is constructed in the late 10th or early 11th century, hence before Lalibela.
It is found in the Atsbi cluster 35km from Mekelle, via the small town of Haiki Meshal which is dedicated to St, Mikael lies on a flat-topped hill, 2300m above sea level. On either side of the church one can see large water catchment basins which the water is always on the same level according to the priests of the church. This church is known for its complex and skillfully designed interior decorations such as its geometrically patterned ceiling with its stepped capitals and its large Greek cross and also known for its wealth in church treasures and manuscripts. No academic authority has established the date of construction but according to the tradition it was built in the 4th century.
Abba Yohanni is a monastery which was named after the monk who founded it, situated in about 8km off the main road.This church is accessible only through a tunnel-like passage on its west side which is built in 1972/73. This church is classic in its decoration and supreme in its workmanship that one can see the beautiful interior of the church which is divided into four bays (which makes the church in exceptional feature) and three aisles by its arched columns and ceiling adorned by domes which themselves are decorated by finely carved crosses.The existence of this church to the outside world was first reported in 1928 (500 years after its construction) by the Italian traveler Dr. Enzo Parona. The annual festival takes place on the 5th of Hidar (14th of November in most years).
This church is found North West of Abbi-Addi. One can see the graveyard and hanging stone bells on the northern side of the churchyard. This Architecturally interesting church has three aisles and four bays and remarkable features such as it is well-carved has six massive, and finely hewn freestanding pillars and three cupolas. On the date of construction of the church, Even if there was a gap between the tradition and the scholars that the tradition has it as it is built during the reigns of Atse Dawit (1382-1411) and Atse Zera Yacob (1434-1468), finally they reached in a perfect agreement that it was from 15th century.