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Thread: Ethiopia's Cross-Shaped Church Carved out of Unbroken Stone

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    United States Avalon Member Skywizard's Avatar
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    Default Ethiopia's Cross-Shaped Church Carved out of Unbroken Stone

    During the so-called Dark Ages, Islam was seen by Europeans as a plague engulfing the East like a black shroud. Spread by fanatics with the Koran in one arm and a blood-stained scimitar in the other, Islam threatened to take Europe as it had the Orient, cutting off contact with all Christian lands within its expanding territory. But amidst decades of such news, a more positive story began to circulate: there was a man, a great Christian king, who ruled a vast kingdom somewhere amidst the Mohammodan hordes of the East. His land was rich and wondrous – contemporary reports speak of fantastic creatures and even the legendary fountain of youth. His name was Prester John. And he was ready to join the nations of the West in a mighty crusade against the forces of Islam, if only they would contact him. But where exactly was his fantastic kingdom?

    India’ was where it was claimed Prester John had his kingdom. But ‘India’ was a pretty loose term to the Middle Ages mind, and Prester John’s land seemed to move about quite a bit. But over time, the mythical Christian kingdom in the East became tied to the reality of the Christian nation of Ethiopia. It was only here that reality could hold a candle to the supposed wonders of the legend, in the form of the stone churches that were found there, and the once-mighty civilization that created them.

    A Christian nation since the fourth century, Ethiopia retained its sense of culture and nationality throughout the ages of the Muslim conquests, and remained one of only two countries in all of Africa that kept its independence during the European colonization of the late 19th century. During the 12th century, a powerful new king ascended to the throne. His name was Lalibela. Partly because of the need to justify his position, given his apparently poor genealogical link to King Solomon, he took up the task of creating places of worship that would awe all those who saw them.

    Lalibela’s intention was to make his capital city a ‘new Jerusalem’ for those who could not make the pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He also wished to challenge the rival holy city of Axum, which claimed (and still does!) to possess the true Arc of the Covenant. The king pretty much ignored any style of church architecture that had gone before, crafting unique buildings that are unlike those anywhere else on Earth. Most incredibly, each was carved out of the ground from an unbroken piece of stone, rather than built. The largest is 40 feet high – meaning that it was carved from a hole at least that deep, in solid rock. Each has a deep trench built around it, allowing access. Visitors descend from ground level to the entrances via steps carved into the walls of the trenches.

    What might be shocking to some European visitors is the presence of frequent ornamentation in the form of swastikas. Of course, the swastika is an ancient good-luck symbol that is still prevalent in India and other eastern countries. Various styles of Christian crosses are also carved, alongside some Muslim-influenced artwork and familiar bible-scenes carved from the living rock.

    Altogether, the project took 20 years. The experience seems to have made King Lalibela into a true-blue believer, as he afterwards abdicated the throne in order to live the ascetic life of a holy man. Today the town of Lalibela is small and unobtrusive – but it still contains the wonders that caused the Christians of the Dark Ages to dream of the mythical kingdom of Prester John.

    Read more at:  http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com...zFldftbdOQR.99

    ~~ One foot in the Ancient World and the other in the Now ~~

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    Canada Avalon Member DeDukshyn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ethiopia's Cross-Shaped Church Carved out of Unbroken Stone

    This construction has definitely fascinated me ... I first heard of it I think in a feature on pyramids and ancient structures. The most fascinating thing is .. why? Why do this rather than build a structure? it surely would be 1000x more difficult and resource intensive would it not? Unless the "how" was far simpler than we can imagine. Or the "Why" equally as powerful as the motivation to use 1000x the resources ...

    Either it was done far more easily than we can possibly imagine, (considering the day in age we can't imagine how this could have been done somewhat easily, it points to advanced techniques or technology), or the motivation to do so is beyond our ability to comprehend ... a fascinating mystery, either way.
    When you are one step ahead of the crowd, you are a genius.
    Two steps ahead, and you are deemed a crackpot.

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    Default Re: Ethiopia's Cross-Shaped Church Carved out of Unbroken Stone

    Maybe it is literally 'a church built on a rock'.

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    Default Re: Ethiopia's Cross-Shaped Church Carved out of Unbroken Stone

    It's a magical building, is it not.
    I think it was done as a Religious-Living-Carving, not a church with added religious carving But the whole building!

    There were probably far more skilled carvers than builders as well!

    Or maybe it developed from the idea/practice of hermits in cave's, but this particular cave wen't the next step and became a semi underground building!

    The top of the building looks slightly higher than the present ground level, I wonder if there was a slight mound there to begin with?

    I love the forethought that wen't into the stepped area out front, very aztecish
    Last edited by Sunny-side-up; 16th October 2013 at 09:47.
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    Default Re: Ethiopia's Cross-Shaped Church Carved out of Unbroken Stone

    Graham Hancock adds his insight, 0:57:23

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    Default Re: Ethiopia's Cross-Shaped Church Carved out of Unbroken Stone

    Why are Ethiopia’s churches under attack?

    James Jeffrey

    The Ethiopian Orthodox Church, with its long history and colourful traditions, has become almost synonymous with the identity of Ethiopia itself. Now, a spate of church burnings has raised the religious and political temperature. What or who is behind this? James Jeffrey investigates.

    Ethiopia is one of the world’s most religious countries, in which about 98% of the population claim a religious affiliation. Hence the shock over churches belonging to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) – an organisation and faith that is integral to the idea of Ethiopian-ness – being burned to the ground, sometimes with their priests inside them.

    It comes at a time when ethnic tensions are already sky high and have already resulted in much blood spilled. Ethnic-related strife has always been present in Ethiopia, but it has been bedevilling the country even more so, it appears, following the initially much-lauded reforms by Abiy Ahmed, after he became Prime Minister in early 2018.

    During the first half of 2018, Ethiopia’s rate of 1.4m new internally displaced persons (IDPs) exceeded Syria’s. By the end of last year, after further ethnic-related clashes, the IDP population had mushroomed to nearly 2.4m – and remains close to that figure.

    “There is a feeling of siege among many followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church,” says Elias Gebreselassie, a journalist based in Addis Ababa. “The burning of churches could lead to a wider distrust within society and could be a time-bomb.

    “Also, in eastern and southern Ethiopia, many people associate the Orthodox Church with northern Ethiopia or specifically, ethnic Amharas, so it could deepen political polarisation.”

    Since July 2018, about 30 churches have been attacked, with more than half of them burned to the ground, according to the Amhara Professionals Union (APU), a US-based diaspora organisation that has attempted to keep track of events. Some of the attacks have also been corroborated by US-based Christian groups.

    While the exact numbers involved are hard to verify, the significant tensions in Ethiopia mean it’s likely the number of attacks is higher than confirmed cases, says Nathan Johnson, Africa regional manager for International Christian Concern, a US-based NGO monitoring the human rights of Christians and religious minorities around the world.

    “I don’t have a total number, as there may be some unreported cases or reports that we have not verified,” Johnson says. “However, there have been at least 15 churches that were attacked, three of which were completely burned down.”

    Unique role of EOTC

    About half of Ethiopia’s 100m population follow the EOTC, the largest of the Oriental Orthodox Christian churches. Muslims make up around 35% of the population – many claim this figure is higher – with Protestants, Catholics and adherents to indigenous tribal religions making up the rest.

    But it is the EOTC that rules supreme in terms of cultural and psychological impact in the country.

    “It is impossible to talk about Ethiopian history without the history of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church,” says Alemayhu Desta, a deacon at Holy Trinity Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Dallas, Texas.

    “The church had an invaluable role in protecting the territorial integrity of Ethiopia from foreign aggression. The church was also a target of foreign invaders because they knew that it is impossible to conquer Ethiopians without destroying the church. That is why the church means so much to Ethiopians. There is no aspect of Ethiopians’ lives where religion in one way or another doesn’t have a role.”

    As a result, Ethiopian identify has become inextricably bound up in the EOTC, with the Ethiopian Orthodox faith evolving over the centuries into “a religion that embraces culture, politics, flag, identity and nationalism, all put in one package”, says religious studies professor and author Tibebe Eshete.

    And yet despite this outsized influence of the EOTC, modern-day Ethiopia arguably offers a success story of Christians and Muslims living together in harmony. Intermarriage is common, while both sides recognise and celebrate each other’s religious holidays.

    “Historically, Ethiopia is a state where diverse groups have excelled in living together in harmony,” says Ethiopian Orthodox priest Nehemiah T. Geth. “Ethiopia is one of the few countries where Christians and Muslims live together peacefully with mutual respect and proximity.

    “They are a people who give precedence to their peaceful co-existence as human beings and as Ethiopians; they don’t harp on their religious differences. Sadly, religious differences are causing havoc around the world these days.”

    But that doesn’t mean Ethiopia is immune to pressures and competition on a larger scale –attacks on Christians have occurred since the 1990s, according to members of the EOTC – hence rising concerns that the increase in church burnings since 2018 could indicate Muslim extremism is gaining a foothold in Ethiopia.

    “Ethiopian followers of the three Abrahamic faiths have lived peacefully side-by-side for centuries,” says Tewodrose Tirfe of the Amhara Association of America, a US-based organisation representing the diaspora’s Amhara ethnic group.

    “If the Church burnings continue and Christians retaliate, this will be a huge setback to the peace that has co-existed between the faiths and could potentially result in a new conflict leading to millions more Ethiopians being displaced. Ethiopia cannot afford a religious conflict at a time when its very survival is in question.”

    Tirfe notes that money from the Gulf region has been pouring into the country to build mosques, Islamic schools, and pushing the Wahhabi form of Islam to Ethiopian Muslims since the early 2000s. Wahhabism is a more strict and conservative Islamic doctrine and religious movement, which is backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Both countries have shown an increased interest in Ethiopia and the wider Horn of Africa region in the past few years.

    “The burning of Churches in Ethiopia is foreign, and I can only think this extreme view has been exported to the country,” Tewodrose says.

    “It is horrific and unbelievable to think monks and priests were burnt alive in such a holy place as a church. I believe, ultimately, that Saudi Arabia’s and UAE’s interest in Ethiopia is political, not religious, but there’s no doubt external extreme views of Islam are having an impact in the country.”

    Religious conflict – or not?

    “Obviously, reports of Muslim attacks on Christians are disturbing but the targeting of Orthodox churches may not necessarily reflect a dangerous rise in religious sectarianism,” says William Davison, the International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Ethiopia.

    “Instead, it may emanate from long-standing grievances and political narratives about supposedly privileged Amharic-speaking highland ‘settlers’ who are perceived to be the descendants of beneficiaries of an imperial system that, for example, strongly promoted the Amharic language, suppressed local identities, had Orthodox Christianity as the state religion, and where tenant farmers were largely at the mercy of landlords.”

    The burning of churches in Sidama this July occurred during ongoing unrest over the area seceding from the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region (SNNPR) to become its own independent federal state.

    “Ethnic Sidamas are overwhelmingly Protestant or Apostolic, and the burning of Orthodox churches in Sidama seems partly to be an [act of] anti-non-Sidama violence, not just purely a religious attack,” Elias says.

    “While many Christians and some liberal Muslims feel Islam in Ethiopia is becoming more conservative and even has the potential to be extreme, the church burnings can’t exclusively be pinned on Muslim areas.”

    While it’s difficult to discern between whether church attacks have been driven more by religious or ethnic differences, or by an admixture of both, the consequences of the attacks have been unequivocal.

    “Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and his administration have not addressed the targeting of church burnings, nor presented a plan to safeguard churches and Christians in the areas where they are being attacked,” Tewodrose says. “He should not stay silent because the longer he’s silent and does not take action, the longer Ethiopians and the perpetrators will view it as not being a priority for Abiy Ahmed’s administration”.

    Privilege of prayer

    At the same time, even in the face of the attacks, Ethiopia’s EOTC still enjoys a privileged position that many other churches in Africa would gladly welcome.

    “Because Christianity is so entwined in Ethiopian culture, it faces less direct persecution than in many other countries in Africa,” Johnson says. “Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea have all made it impossible to open new churches or openly practise Christianity. As a result, they have small Christian populations. Also, they constantly harass, arrest and even kill Christian leaders and laypeople.

    “Nigeria, on the other hand, has a very large Christian population, but still struggles with Islamic extremism from multiple sources. Many churches have been destroyed over the last 10 years by Boko Haram in the northeast and by Fulani militants throughout Nigeria’s Middle Belt region.”

    While many countries across the globe have been rent asunder by religious differences, leading to social conflict, and worse, Ethiopia has managed to accommodate significant religious groups existing in relative harmony.

    But the rub is whether this previously commendable track record can be maintained in the current climate, when so much is changing and at such a pace.

    Tibebe explains how throughout history, attempts to reform the EOTC have been viewed as tantamount to endangering Ethiopian identify itself, and hence have been resisted. The result, many have argued, is a church out of step and increasingly ill equipped to compete in a modern, rapidly urbanising and better educated society.

    “Now there is a new generation among churchgoers who know the Bible and won’t allow it to be misquoted,” says 27-year-old Getachew Alehean, a tour guide in Lalibela. Increasingly, younger Orthodox Christians are beginning to ask more questions about the EOTC’s behaviour and authority. Like many churches around the world, the EOTC is collectively wealthy, but unlike other churches, it does relatively little community outreach beyond the church doors.

    There is even a growing movement among the Oromo people, who were at the centre of sustained protests leading to the emergence of Abiy and his reforms, for an entirely separate administrative body of the EOTC dedicated to the Oromo.

    “Talking religion and politics in the context of the current Ethiopia has been a delicate terrain lately as the issue seems to have become more sensitive, given how different political groups appropriate the religious space as an alternative political venue,” Geth says.

    “Religion has become one of the major variables in articulating political claims and contestations in post-1991 Ethiopia, undermining the harmony of the diverse group of people who have lived over the centuries,” he concludes.


    PS! The Nobel Peace Prize 2019 was awarded to [the prime minister of Ethiopia] Abiy Ahmed Ali "for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea."

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