In the land of Black Jerusalem

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I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon. Look not upon me, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me: my mother’s children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept. Song of Songs 1. The Good Book.

Black Jerusalem is the name given to Lalibela, the ancient northern capital of Abyssinia and monastic city. Its 11 rocky churches hidden in the volcanic rock are still venerated as the Mecca of the Ethiopian Coptic Christianity. Every believer is required to make at least once in his or her life a pilgrimage. Under the rainfall Lalibela looks even more mystery. Prior to the arrival in Africa of the European Christian missions, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has some roots in the Syriac churches and the Coptic Church of Egypt, shows evidence of influence of Judaism and claims to be the descendant of the King Solomon. Upholding a strong tradition of ecumenism, Ethiopia is also the home of the first mosque on the African land, the Mosquee Al Nejashi. In power from 1974 to 1991, the Marxist-Leninist junta put an end to the status of the Ethiopian Orthodox church as a state religion. At the fall of the Derg regime, Ethiopia has remained a secular country. Today, the Orthodox Church maintains its influence but hardly competes with evangelical missionaries and the rising of radical Islam. While entering the rock-carved church Debra Sina, a female pilgrim takes off his shoes before kissing the stone around the doorway. The church communicates with the church Golgotha whose access is denied to women. Many Orthodox churches are closed to women since the destruction of churches by the warrior queen Judith in the fifth century AD. Downwards of the village appears at the bottom of a cliff a hint of the majestic cross-shaped church Giyorgis Bete. A monk seating in his small workshop shows me his goatskin paintings of biblical scenes. He passes on his knowledge to young student monks. Axum; another former capital of Abyssinia: still alive legend suggests that the Ark of the Covenant brought from Jerusalem by Prince Menelik 1, the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, is kept in the monastery St. Mary of Zion. The north-western Lake Tana, largest lake of Ethiopia, gives rise to the Blue Nile. Its many islands offer a sanctuary to the monasteries. Addis Ababa, the almost void of remnants capital of Ethiopia. On Mount Entoto, half an hour drive from the capital, the Emperor Menelik made built in 1882 the Church St. Mary. Since this date, patients crowd to the place for healing. On this rainy and cool day, pilgrims hidden under their robes are standing on their knees in front of the icons of the Virgin Mary in the courtyard of the church. The rainy season has gone on for several days. Suddenly a storm arose. Pilgrims quickly left the courtyard for keep out of the rain.

A story made in July 2010.