Debre Birhan Selassie
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The Most Beautiful of Ethiopian Churches
Debre Birhan Selassie is a small church located in the heart of Gondar, Ethiopia. The original church was was built by Emperor Eyasu II, grandson of the great Emperor Fasilides, in the 17th century. The present day church was rebuilt in the 1880s following damage by marauding Sudanese Dervishes. I found the exterior of the church to be rather unassuming but once inside, I understood why this little church is one of Ethiopia’s top tourist attractions. Every inch of wall and ceiling space is covered with painted images. The beamed, painted ceiling will immediately grab your attention. Look up and you’ll see the faces of 123 winged cherubs representing the omnipresence of God and the walls depict biblical scenes and saints. On one end of the chapel, two curtain covered doors lead to Holy of Holies where the church’s copy of the Ark of the Convenant is housed. Above the two doors are icons of the Holy Trinity (the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as represented by three identical men with halos) and the Crucifixion. There’s a lot of significance to the murals and this is the one place where having someone explain them to you makes sense. The priests do offer tours – just be sure to leave a small contribution behind when you leave.
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