The new guide, Mareg, and the driver appeared within a few minutes and it turned out that we really had lucked out as he and the driver were dynamite right from the get go. He spoke very good English, the driver drove well and the van was in far better shape than the other one had been.
A donation station set up by the US Agency for International Development:
What a shame the church and monastery, both located in a cave, were protected by such an unflattering, modern outer wall.
Locals were praying against the wall and the gate to the church as it was closed. We had to wait for a few minutes until the gate was opened by a priest.
The main built-up church was constructed using alternating layers of wood and granite faced with white gypsum that gave it the appearance of a gigantic layered chocolate cream cake. In front of the church, a small opening revealed muddy soil which was said to be part of a subterranean lake below the cave.
Behind the main building, adding an eerie quality to the already dingy cavern, lay the bones of some of the 10,740 Christian pilgrims who, it is claimed, traveled from as far as Egypt, Syria and Jerusalem to die at this monastery.
Two views of the sistra instrument which was used for chanting:
The drums were often played for a mind-numbing nine hours during the Orthodox church services, Mareg said!
A reliable tradition says Yemrehanna Kristos was built in the late 11th or early 12th century by the third Zagwe emperor of the same name. He was a predecessor of King Lalibela and credited with restoring the link between the Ethiopian and Coptic churches. An unverified legend states that Yemrehanna Kristos visited Alexandria, Egypt, during his reign and built the church using wood imported from there as well as gypsum from Jerusalem. The church and its curative holy water formed an important site of pilgrimage in medieval times.
There was a selection of crosses on arches too, including the Maltese cross.