At 2,500 feet, Ethiopa’s ‘Abuna Yemata Guh’ is arguably the most inaccessible place of worship on earth, carved into the side of a cliff, with a sheer drop of 650 feet on all sides.
Abuna Yemata Guh is a monolithic church located in the Hawzen woreda of the Tigray Region, Ethiopia. It is situated at a height of 2,580 metres (8,460ft) and has to be climbed on foot to reach. It is notable for its dome and beautiful wall paintings dating back to the 5th century and its architecture.
Abuna Yemata Guh is one of more than100 rock-hewn churches in Northern Ethiopia, but it’s the only one that requires worshippers climbing up a 1000 ft cliff face to reach.
The church is carved into the side of a cliff and to reach it, visitors and worshippers alike have to cross a natural stone bridge with a sheer drop of approximately 250m (820 ft) on either side, and thereafter a final narrow wooden footbridge, followed by a climb up a vertical rock wall depending entirely on hand grips and foot holds (bare footed since it is considered a holy ground) crowned with a walk over a 50 cm wide ledge facing a cliff of 980 ft sheer drop.
Father Assefa, 64, has climbed it every day for 50 years.
“The routes are blessed”, said father assefa. “No one has ever died. our patron saint saves those who fall with his wind. They are returned to the ledge from halfway down”.
Father Assefa’s grandfather was also a priest at Abuna Yemata Guh, and generations of priests have been buried among the rocks.
The church was built by St Abuna Yemata, one of the nine saints who came out of Syria, Constantinople or Rome to bring Christianity to Ethiopia in the late fifth century.
According to lonely planet, the first 45 minutes of the climb is mildly challenging, with a couple of tricky sheer sections requiring toehold action; guides carry ropes (Birr150) for the final push. The last two minutes require nerves of steel to make the final scramble and precarious ledge walk over a 200m drop.
The church houses some of worlds oldest Christian art
Inside, the sandstone walls are adorned with portraits of the Bible’s protagonists as well as depictions of its parables.
There are more paintings depicting figures from the Old Testament than from the New Testament. The dry air and lack of humidity have preserved these artworks in their original perfection.
The paintings date back to initial traces of Christianity in Ethiopia and are themed around the nine saints and twelve apostles. The oldest icons are in the form of diptychs and triptychs dating back to the fifteenth century.
The Abuna Yemata Guh church has a local guide and vanguards at every step of the climb, making sure visitors know which foothold to take and rock to climb and helping out with the ropes.
Despite the scary climb, the church is active with churchgoers climbing up the cliffs several times a week including mothers with their children on their back, pregnant women, babies and old people to attend services.
Watch the video below to get a sense of the climb it requires to visit Abuna Yemata Guh