Dreaming of an adventure – filled escap

Mekelle፡ 23 October 2023(Tigray Herald)

Dreaming of an adventure – filled escape? Look no further than Tigrai, your ultimate top tour destination! Let’s explore to a mysterious land steeped in history and rich in architectural marvels! Join us on a pilgrimage to witness the awe-inspiring stone churches that have stood the test of time  – the ancient Rock Hewn Church of Mikael Imba.
Mikael Imba can be reached either from Wukro via Atsbi or Agulae. It is only 35km from Mekelle, via the small town of Haiki Meshal. The church is dedicated to Saint Mikael and lies on a flat topped hill, 2300m above sea level. It is not visible until one reaches the top of the hill. The beautiful track from Atsbi leads to within a few meters of the foot of the hill. Swiss photographer, George Gerster comments, “I do not know of any trip in Ethiopia of greater attraction with regard to the countryside. The Amba in question offers a view of paradise.” The church is almost a monolith and three of its walls are completely free of the cliff out of which it is carved. The exterior of the church is about 17m wide. The central entrance leads into the anteroom beyond, the beautifully decorated wooden door that leads to the sanctuary. The interior decoration of the church is impressive. “Internally one is astonished, as at Abraha Atsebaha, by the complexities of the design and the skill displayed in achieving such a layout by the difficult and laborious process of excavation,” comments David Buxton, the entomologist who studied the rock hewn churches of Tigrai. Dr. Tewelde Medhin Yosef, the first to list the rock hewn churches of Tigrai, described it “as an artistically finished church”. The church’s ceiling, like that of Wukro Cherkos, is geometrically patterned. Stepped capitals and a large Greek cross hewn in relief on the ceiling can also be seen. The walls have many carvings and the wooden doors are beautifully decorated. Dale Otto, a member of Pearce’s pilgrimage to the rock hewn churches of Tigrai, remarks, “This church is magnificent inside, a masterpiece of stone hewing. Throughout this church the workmanship and symmetry are of the highest standard.” The church of Mikael Imba is spacious, 16.6m wide and 9m deep (excluding the Holy of Holies area and the anteroom). There are nine freestanding and sixteen pillars in relief. The pillars are 3.2m tall and 2.5m apart. The ceiling is 6m high. Mikael Imba is one of the painstakingly carved and complex churches of Tigrai. Mikael Imba is also one of the wealthiest churches in terms of treasures and manuscripts. The 1.5m tall black iron cross which, according to Pearce, was made “at a time when iron was much more precious than gold and silver,” is one of the valuable possessions of the church. Many manuscripts (some partially damaged by accidental fire) can be seen in the treasure house of the church. Pearce, after her pilgrimage to the rock churches of Tigrai, wrote about one of the manuscripts, “The entire manuscript was decorated page by page in its letters very like The Book of the Kells and Lindisfarne Gospels.” No academic authority has established with certainty the exact date of construction of this splendid edifice. Tradition has it that it was built in the 4th century AD. David Buxton is of the opinion that Wukro Cherkos, Mikael Imba and Abraha Atsebaha are “posterior to Debre Damo” but “before Lalibela” (late 11th or early 12th century). The existence of Mikael Imba was first reported in 1948 by Beatrice Playne, the pioneer in the study of Ethiopian paintings. On either side of the church there are large water catchments basins, similar to those of the Debre Damo monastery. According to the priests of the church, the water remains at a constant level. Don’t miss out the annual festival takes place on the 12th day of Hidar (21st of November on most years).

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