The Story of Yemrehana Krestos
The monastery differs from the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela in a couple of key ways. It was not excavated from the rock face but was, rather, built more conventionally. It was constructed from stone layers and wood panels cleverly designed to prevent the monastery from sinking into the marshy ground beneath it; this design also contributes greatly to the monastery’s characterful aesthetic. Yamrehanna Kristos was also built up to 80 years before the main churches of Lalibela, making it their original exemplar.
The gravitas of the church is only enhanced by its location. It is situated in a cave whose roof was formed by basalt lava flows; thus it is shrouded in darkness, granting it a solemn and somewhat bewitching atmosphere. This cave is itself set in a charming forest of juniper trees, where vervet monkeys are found; you will walk through this for around 20 minutes to reach the monastery.
The interior of the church is spectacularly ornate: it is adorned with carved geometric designs and colourful murals portraying various biblical scenes. It is very well-conserved, apart from some structural problems, which are being dealt with thanks to a grant from the U.S. State Department Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP).
Another great thing about Yamrehanna Kristos is that it is still inhabited by priests today. There is something quite fascinating and moving in witnessing this more than 800 year-long continuity in religious practice and heritage.
Yemrehana Krestos Church FAQs
It is possible to take an international flight directly to Lalibela; however, you’ll probably want to make a stop first in Addis Ababa. It is cheaper this way, and this vibrant capital city is also well worth a visit.
Once in Lalibela, Yamrehanna Kristos can be reached by a one and a half-hour drive by 4WD. It is also possible to reach it by foot or mule. Both options take around five hours and offer the advantage of allowing you to take in lovely scenery along the way.
The increased popularity of Lalibela in recent years has led to a number of good accommodation options springing up, catering to different budgets. Several are lodges constructed in a traditional stone and thatched-roof style, but boasting modern amenities, and offer excellent views over the dramatic mountainous landscape of the area.
The dry season in Ethiopia runs between October and March, so this is when many travellers will prefer to visit. It is, however, possible to visit year-round and those who are especially keen to avoid tourist crowds, and don’t mind worse weather, may want to visit outside of the dry season.
On 10 October (19 October in the Ethiopian calendar) every year, the monastery is packed with pilgrims clad in white robes and headwear, which makes for an incredible sight and very special atmosphere.
Ready to visit Yemrehana Krestos?
Fusing history, culture, landscapes and wildlife along a perfectly paced circuit, this trip is a synthesis of the very best experiences on offer in Ethiopia’s northern highlands. Explorations of the ancient cities Axum, Gondar, Bahir Dar and Lalibela are broken…