Rock Hewn Churches

st_mary_zion_church-1-300x300The magnificent rock hewn churches of Tigrai, most of them curved into relatively inaccessible cliff faces, obscure as the churches carved into the sandstone cliffs of Tigrai. Practically unknown to other Ethiopians, along the outside world, before 1966, these rock edifices have been described by the British academic Ivy Pearce as “the greatest of the historical – cultural heritages of the Ethiopian people”. Most of these architectural gems remain in active use today, several house paintings and other sacred medieval artifacts, and even one of them is imbued with an aura of spirituality that seeps from the very rock in to which they are curved.

The rock hewn churches of Tigrai were generally excavated using a very different method to that favored at Lalibela. The most impressive churches in and around Lalibela were generally created in two phases, first of all a moat like subterranean trench would be excavated deep into a horizontal rock, then the church itself would be chiseled into the monolithic block of rock created at the center of the trench. However, more characteristic of the Tigrain rock churches are curved into vertical cliff face or from the outcrop, the former sometimes expands onto ledge, where a false entrance has been added.

The rock churches of Tigrai are dated back to the rule of Abreha and Atsebeha (Ezana and Saizana), the twin emperors of Axum, who introduced Christianity to Ethiopia in the 4th century AD up to the 15th century. Many of the rock hewn churches of Tigrai is lie along the main road between Mekelle and Adigrat the junction town to Adwa and Axum, and they are grouped under four major cluster, and 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.

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