Debre Birhan Selassie Church

Debire Birhan Selassie Church, meaning 'Trinity and Mountain of Light' is the most famous place of worship in Gondar

On approach, twelve rounded stone towers - representing the 12 apostles - stand stoically guarding the church, as they have done for centuries.

The 13th tower, the tallest of the bunch, represents the Lion of Judah. Eagle eyed visitors can see an imprint of the Lion on the top half of the tower.

Originally built in the 17th century by Emperor Eyasu II, the present structure was redeveloped during the 1880’s following a raid by marauding Sudanese Dervishes and lightning strike that reduced the original building to rubble. 

Debre Berhan Selassie Church in Gonder

Inside the Church

Originally painted for for those unable to read, every inch of the church walls are covered in vivid depictions of biblical verses. 

With the help of a guide, the church provides a stunning visual synopsis of important biblical stories.

Along the circular cornice near the top of the walls, 135 cherubs sit idly gazing down, across the vast cavernous church, greeting weary pilgrims and curious tourists alike. 

Despite significant water damage to the inside of the church, which rendered 13 of the cherubs unreadable, the painstakingly detailed frescoes are a sight to behold, and the cherubs are just the beginning of the surreal scenery found within the church. 

Ceiling of angels in Debre Berhan Selassie Church in Gondar

A Depiction of Hell

Below the cherubs, past the tabernacle lies the Kafka-esque depiction of hell created by 17th century artist, Haile Meskel.

Full of sneering demons and tortured sinners, contoured bodies lie bruised and bloody on the walls, their pain etched so evocatively on their faces. Their emotion is almost palpable.

A heavy air hangs inside in this part of the church, and it feels like the paint on these walls has given this building a life of its own.

As with most churches, above the altar lies a portrait of Jesus spread upon the cross.

Debre Berhan Selassie Church in Gonder

Visiting Debre Birhan Selassie

The church is open 8am-12:30pm, and then again from 1:30pm-6pm.

Tickets are purchased in cash directly across the street from the main entrance, and cost 50 Birr for adults, and 75 Birr for those wanting to take pictures of the inside. If you book your trip with us, all entrance fees are included as standard. 

Generally priests will conduct the tours so a small discretionary donation is given at the end of the tour. All footwear must be removed upon entry, and although both genders are allowed entry, only men are allowed to enter via the main door, with women required to use the side door.

Services are still held within the church, and it can be possible to pay a visit during a service, although this cannot be guaranteed. 

Most visitors explore Debre Birhan Selassie as part of a wider tour of Gondar, including visits to Fasil Ghebbi and Fasilides' Bath

It is typical to spend just a night or two in Gondar before heading further north to explore the Simien Mountains National Park, or catching a domestic flight to Lalibela

Debre Berhan Selassie Church in Gonder

Ready to explore Debre Birhan Selassie?