Roadtrip Day 5: Yemerhanna Kristos, a church in a cave with hundreds of mummies

Monday 8th January, 2018

Today we are visiting the church of Yemerhanna Kristos. It is 45 km, a one hour drive, north of Lalibela. This church is believed to be from the 11th century, and is build from stone and wood, rather than excavated. It stands inside a cave, at the top of a small valley.

As we are about to leave we realise that our car has got a flat tyre. On a roadtrip looking after your car is the first priority, so we go and hunt for a tyre place. Car mechanics are easily identifiable in Ethiopia, their premises have a nice stack of tyres in front of it next to the road. They may not look like much, but it is amazing what they can do, working out of a shipping container!

Lalibela Car Mechanic

We end up leaving at 10 and arrive at the start of the walk by late morning. It is a lovely walk along the valley to the church, following a small track alongside a creek. There are a couple of other pilgrims on the path, and the usual number of donkeys. At regular intervals local entrepreneurs have set up shop to sell bottles of water and snacks.

Those faithful donkeys

A rather ugly cinder block wall hides this amazing building from plain sight. It also makes the entire church even darker, protecting the many original paintings and features.

Yemmerhanna Kristos

A morbid aspect of this church is the large number of mummified corpses stacked on top of each other, and scattered about in back of the cave. There are hundreds of them. According to the priests these are the bodies of pilgrims.

In the semi darkness this make the place feel very eerie. Their bodies have been perfectly mummified, with feet, faces and hands clearly identifiable.

One of the hundreds of mummified bodies

We walk around silently, then get blessed by the priest which involves a sprinkling of holy water, and kissing the cross. The smell in the church is rather pungent; a mixture of blood, incense, urine and human waste.

We return to Lalibela and have lunch and coffee at Shambel, our guide’s home, and we meet his family.

A nice young lady comes with a bowl of water, soap and a towel. Mike, with his grey hair, is considered the oldest person there and has his hands washed first. The rest of us follow.

The food is excellent. We are presented with a traditional injera platter with a range of foods and of course Ethiopian coffee. The children are watching us curiously from a distance, slowly coming closer as we eat as honoured guests.

Ready for our coffee, rushes, straw and flowers on the ground

We return to the hotel and spend the rest of the afternoon reading, relaxing, and doing some laundry. The power goes out at 8:30 pm, but luckily the generator of the hotel kicks in. So it may be noisy, but at least we have light and working showers!

Travel Details and Tips:

Accomodation: Panoramic View Hotel in Lalibela

Tip 1: We always take a plug, some hand wash and a clothesline with us when travel. We normally only pack clothes for seven days, so by regular washing we keep on top of it.

Tip 2: Make sure you spent time relaxing, don’t over-plan your trip with activities. It is fine to miss out on some of the sights, if that gives you time to really soak up the atmosphere by just sitting somewhere under a tree or on a terrace! Create those special memories of drinking beer and eating pizza!

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