Abuna Yemata Guh – Church in the Sky, World’s Most Inaccessible Place of Worship
They say that faith can help you move mountains, but can it help you climb one? Well, you will need faith and fearlessness if you want to pray at the Abuna Yemata Guh Monastery! Found in the rugged landscape of Northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region, this monastery is not only a testament to human devotion but also an architectural marvel.
It is often referred to as “the world’s most inaccessible church,” and for good reason. Carved into the side of a sheer cliff, one must trek over 8,460 feet (2,580 meters) by foot to reach this place of worship. The journey is both challenging and awe-inspiring. While this may sound like a daunting task, the rich history of the church, its remote location, and the stunning architecture continue to draw travelers, researchers, and devotees.
‘Walking by faith’ takes on a completely new meaning on the climb to the monastery!
The incredible site of the mountain church. Abuna Yemata Guh is a monolithic church located in the Hawzen woreda of the Tigray Region, Ethiopia. pic.twitter.com/JKVYM4XxrY
— History Three Thousand (@History_3000) October 21, 2023
The Abuna Yemata Guh trek is certainly not for the faint of heart. A steep and hazardous climb along a nearly sheer cliff is in store for anyone wishing to visit this church. If you plan to take on this challenge, it’s best to start early in the morning, as the trek can easily take half a day or more, depending on your pace.
Your journey will begin with a mildly challenging trek over the undulating and dusty terrain of the Tigray region. The path will take you through winding canyons and gorges, and you should expect some tricky patches along the way. However, this first leg of the journey is just a warm-up for the true challenge.
The real climb begins once you have reached the base of the cliff. Between you and the pinnacle, where the church is located, is a 1,000-foot-tall (304-meter) cliff face. Even with handholds cut into the rock, it’s a challenging climb. Enlisting the help of a local guide to show you the safe spots to place your hands and feet is a good way to make the journey safer. Certain sections have precarious and difficult-to-reach handholds, necessitating the use of ropes. To preserve the sanctity of this holy ground, trekkers must undertake the challenging climb barefoot.
The final stretch, if you have made it this far, will require you to walk along a 50 cm wide ledge over a 980-foot drop (300 meters). Does this sound like a once-in-a-lifetime climb? Well, the people of the region make this ascent several times a week! Father Assefa says there has not been a single accident to date. According to him, the patron saint of the church rescues those who fall with his wind, returning them to the ledge from halfway down. The 64-year-old priest has been visiting the church every day for the past 50 years.
The Abuna Yemata Guh Monastery is a historical, spiritual, and cultural landmark.
This monolithic church has been around for a long time, tracing its origins back to the 5th century, making it one of Ethiopia’s oldest Christian sites. Local legends say that the church was carved in the stone cliff by St. Abuna Yemata (also referred to as Abba Yem’ata), one of the Nine Saints from Rome, Constantinople, and Syria who brought Christianity to Ethiopia.
The stunning paintings found along the sandstone walls of the church will grab your attention as soon as you walk through the entrance. Protagonists from the Bible and depictions of its parables make up a majority of the artworks, which can be traced back to the introduction of Christianity in Ethiopia. Some of the oldest are diptychs and triptychs that date back to the 15th century! The exceptional preservation of the paintings is all thanks to the arid environment. Dry air and a lack of humidity have ensured minimal degradation over time.
Architecturally, the Abuna Yemata Guh monastery is a work of wonder. Carved into the very face of the cliff, the church blends seamlessly into its surroundings. The domes and pillars within the church exhibit careful craftsmanship, a truly remarkable feat considering the lack of sophisticated tools at the time. Father Assefa speaks about the church bells carved out of stone and their pure melodies that echo across the countryside.
The Abuna Yemata Guh Monastery is and will continue to be a bastion of faith.
Abuna Yemata Guh is a church that has been described as the world’s most perilous church. It sits so high up perching 650 feet above a steep cliff in Hawzen, #Tigray Region. Its architecture, dome & wall paintings date back to the 5th Century. #visitEthiopia 📷Nigel Pavitt💯 pic.twitter.com/e1m9WptHhT
— Abel 🇪🇹 أبيل (@Abeladdis_et) December 22, 2020
Currently, efforts are underway to enhance visitor safety while not significantly changing the monastery. As a UNESCO World Heritage site candidate, it could join the list of many other rock-hewn churches in Africa. The Abuna Yemata Guh Monastery is a symbol of faith for the people in the region. Father Assefa states they feel closer to God upon this rock.
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