Category Archives: day

The death of King Lalibela Commemorated Today

A painting of Saint-King Lalibela, on a canvas in Lalibela

A painting of Saint-King Lalibela, on a canvas in Lalibela

Today, 19th June / Senay 12, is known as Senay Mikael and is an important Saint’s day across the country. But in Lalibela it is the most important holy day in Lalibela after Gena, for it is the anniversary of the death 796 years ago, of the Saint-King Lalibela, whose name the town has taken. He is said to have died in 1221 and is renown as the architect of the amazing labyrinth of rock hewn churches which are the focus of the town of Lalibela, formerly known as Roha.

Most sources available on the internet are vague on when was King Lalibela born and how long he lived. Entries from the late Richard Pankhurst and other well researched entries such as museums are vague about his year of birth often preferring to give his dates as late 12th

Entrance to Mikael & Golgotta in Lalibela

Entrance to Mikael & Golgotta in Lalibela

Century and early 13th Century. Others only really agree about his reign (most agree with 1181-1221). It is often stated that King Lalibela became King and took the thrown name Gebre Meskal (as Ras Tefari took the name Haile Selassie) in 1181. Wikipedia however states that he was born in Roha (the previous name for Lalibela) in 1162 AD and died in 1221 at the age of 58/59. The Dictionary of African Biography notes King Lalibela’s dates as 1150’s to c.1225. It could be that the difference between 1150s (approx 1155) and 1162 would be down to the difference between the western and Ethiopian calendars. The circa 1225 for his death is not out of line with the suggested 1221! It should be noted that in mediaeval times living beyond 40 was probably beyond the average life expectancy and certainly late 50’s was an old man. Few would have lived beyond their early 60s.

His tomb is in the church Golgota which adjoins Beta Mikael

LalibelaGolgotta saint bas releif

Bas Relief in Golgotha church in Lalibela

in the main cluster of churches in Lalibela, making this a very special double annual saint’s day. Yesterday on the eve of the big day, there was singing and chanting around Bet Mikael and Golgotta (where the Saint-King is buried) and this morning the two tabots (Mikael and Lalibela) were paraded out to a nearby tent with great pomp and celebration, and an hour or so after returned to the church. There is also an especially big market today full of livestock and other local produce, even though its not the usual Saturday market day.

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Ethiopia Patriots Day – 5th May

Tigray offers great walking with wonderful views

Tigray offers great walking with wonderful views

In the first week of May there are two holidays: Monday 1st May and Friday 5th May. These are excellent opportunities to get out and se some of the stunning countryside and historical sights of Ethiopia. Why not book a Tesfa trek, a perfect way to see the scenery, culture and some of the wildlife that abounds in Ethiopia.

So what about these holidays? 1st May is international – May Day or Labour Day, but May 5th – Patriots Day is one of several holidays in Ethiopia

Haile Selassie's return to Addis with Col. Wingate

Haile Selassie’s return to Addis with Col. Wingate

that commemorate important historic events in Ethiopia. Patriots Day – is celebrated on Miaza 27 or 5th May, celebrates Haile Selassie’s triumphal return to Addis Ababa, ending the five year occupation of the city by Italian forces in World War II. In particular it honours the Ethiopian patriots (Arbegnoch) who fought for the liberation of their country alongside British (troops from Africa) and other Allied Forces from the Commonwealth countries, France and Belgium).

This year, 76 years after this historic occasion, there are few surviving Patriots, but those that are still able will lay a wreath at Arat Kilo in the centre of Addis Ababa.

Its important to remember the events that led to the liberation of Ethiopia and that pushed the Patriots to take

Ethiopian Arbegnoch -Patriot Troops

Ethiopian Arbegnoch -Patriot Troops

up arms in defence of their country. At the start of the 20th century Ethiopia was the only country in Africa to retain its sovereignty and remain uncolonised by European powers. The victory at the Battle of Adwa (1896) had ended Italian attempts to colonise the county.

However with the rise to power of Benito Mussolini and his fascist creed, Italy again developed ambitions of extending its East African colony from Eritrea into Ethiopia. Despite Ethiopia’s membership of the League of Nations, which should have meant that

Haile Selassie speaks at the League of Nations

Haile Selassie speaks at the League of Nations

other members came to its aid if invaded, Italy attacked Ethiopia on 3rd October 1935.

Protests were lodged at the League of Nations to little effect. In June 1936 Haile Selassie made a formal, eloquent and impassioned appeal to the League of Nations, in which he referenced the chemical attacks launched on his people from Italian aircraft, and requested the assistance due Ethiopia. There was a toothless response from members who were afraid to anger a belligerent Italian state. But the Emperor

Haile Selassie "Man of the Year"

Haile Selassie “Man of the Year”

became a symbol for those opposing the rise of fascism around the world. Time Magazine even named him ‘Man of the Year’.

Nevertheless not much changed, only six countries refused to recognise Italy’s occupation: China, New Zealand, the USSR, the Spanish Republic (anti-Franco), Mexico and the USA. The  League agreed to partial and ineffective sanctions that did little to hamper Italian aggression and there was little effective support for the Ethiopian attempts to counter the Italian occupation until Italy entered the Second World War on the side of Germany in June 1940. Although British attempts to assist the Ethiopian resistance began in 1939/40 with Col. Daniel Sandford’s efforts to link up the resistance. With Italy’s declaration of war, Sandford’s mission swung into action providing assistance and support for the Arbegnoch, until Col.

Haile Selassie with Brig. Sandford & Col. Wingate

Haile Selassie with Brig. Sandford & Col. Wingate

Orde Wingate took over command. On 18th January 1941 Haile Selassie crossed into Ethiopia from Sudan, and with a force of Ethiopian Patriots joined the ‘Gideon Force’ led by Wingate which consisted of about 800 Sudanese troops, and 800 soldiers led by some fifty officers and twenty British NCOs.

The ensuing fighting, much of it in Gojam against superior Italian numbers saw the Italians pull out of Debre Marcos and the Gideon force with the Ethiopian Patriots take Addis Ababa.

Haile Selassie’s speech on returning to Addis Ababa was one of reconciliation that shares something of Nelson Mandela, though in a very different era:

Today is the day on which we defeated our enemy. Therefore, when we say let us rejoice with our hearts, let not our rejoicing be in any other way but in the spirit of Christ. Do not return evil for evil. Do not indulge in the atrocities which the enemy has been practicing in his usual way, even to the last.

Take care not to spoil the good name of Ethiopia by acts which are worthy of the enemy. We shall see that our enemies are disarmed and sent out the same way they came. As Saint George who killed the dragon is the Patron Saint of our army as well as of our allies, let us unite with our allies in everlasting friendship and amity in order to be able to stand against the godless and cruel dragon which has newly risen and which is oppressing mankind.”

These words of the Emperor which show a pride in what is Ethiopian and a call for humility, dignity and nobility despite the atrocities of others, ring true in a world besmirched by terrorism and atrocities. It is a standard that all should aspire too.

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Holy days of Hedar, Mikael and Mariam

Icon of St. Mikael

Icon of St. Mikael

There are many big saints days in Hedar (Ethiopian month that runs from 10Nov – 9Dec) where certain churches will parade out their tabots with much dancing and celebration. One such is Hedar Mikael, St.Michael’s day on 21st November. On this coming Monday morning your nose will be the first to tell you of this holiday (unless you live very close to a Mikael church – in which case it will be your ears, reminded through the night), as the slightly acrid smell from thousands of bonfires wafts into your nose. The smell ives meaning to the slightly increased haze over the capital city this coming Monday morning.People light small fires burning up rubbish from their compound, believing the smoke clears away disease and sickness – a sort of purification.

Michael church in Lalibela

Michael church in Lalibela

In Lalibela one of the main churches is dedicated to the archangel St.Michael. The church behind, known as Golgotha is the burial place for the Saint King Lalibela who built the amazing complex of rock hew churches in the place formally known as Roha, but now of course called Lalibela.  Lalibela’s saints day is the same as Mikael and so al Mikael days are extra special in Lalibela.

Just over a week after Hedar Mikael is Tsion Mariam (St Mary of Zion): one of the big annual St. Mary days in the country and sees one of the most important Saint’s days celebrations in Axum. The church of Our Lady Mary of Zion (to give it it’s full name) is arguably Ethiopia’s most important church. It was one of the first churches built in Ethiopia back in the very early 4th century, and has been destroyed and rebuilt at least twice with destruction inflicted by the armies of Queen Yodit and Mohammed Gragn.

axum-mariam-fasilidas-img_4555

Axum Mariam, built in the Gondarine style by Emperor Fasilidas

It was here that Emperors came to seek the coronation. If an Emperor was not coronated at Mariam Tsion or at least had a special ratification service they could not hold the title “Atse’.

Axum is booked out early each year for Tsion Mariam (30th November) with thousands of pilgrims descending on the town and spending the night at the ancient church. But the church

Ancient stones in the Church compound in Axum

Ancient stones in the Church compound in Axum

compound is worth spending some time visiting if you can arrange a stay there  at another time. There are stones on which is old Sabean script, that must have been sources from far older buildings. The church built by Emperor Fasilidas has lovely frescoes aside (though only men can enter here), and the trees are full of sun birds and other iridescent birds.

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Be in Lalibela for the Special Saints Day on 19th June

Be one of a few foreigners to witness this special saints day and follow it with walk in the mountains of Meket.

A painting of Saint-King Lalibela, on a canvas in Lalibela

A painting of Saint-King Lalibela, on a canvas in Lalibela

St Mikael’s day in Lalibela and a Tesfa Trek in Meket

Come and visit Lalibela for Senay Mikael, the St Michael’s day celebrated on Sunday 19th June is one of the biggest saint’s days in Lalibela, with it also marking the anniversary of Saint-King Lalibela’s death. The Church of Mikael in Lalibela is connected to the church known as Golgotha where Lalibela himself is buried.

Only Gena (Ethiopian Christmas) is a bigger celebration in the town.

Fly in on Saturday and see the market – a day when the town is really buzzing, and visit the other churches. After the

Entrance to Mikael & Golgotta in Lalibela

Entrance to Mikael & Golgotta in Lalibela

processions and celebrations on Sunday morning head off  to Meket to send a couple of days trekking in the mountains before coming back for a flight to Addis on Tuesday.

See details here – prices and tour itinerary

A Meket farmer enjoys the view

A Meket farmer enjoys the view

 

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Gabriel day in Addis

St Gabriel's day in Addis Ababa

St Gabriel’s day in Addis Ababa

Yesterday’s St. Gabriel’s day is one of the biggest saint’s days in the Ethiopian Calendar. The holy Tabot is paraded around the church as thousands of worshipers attend services at the Gabriel church in the city centre (behind the palace above Cassanchis).The roads leading to the church are closed to traffic.

Most women will wear traditional white cotton dresses and shawls and men will where a Gabi – a white cotton blanket – over their clothes. Back at home grass will be laid out over the floor for a coffee ceremony, incense will be burned and special home baked traditional bread will be shared out.

Addis Ababa might be modernising at a fast and furious rate, but the old traditions remain in place.

PS – note the leaning building in the photo. If you look closely you will see that they could not decide whether the windows should conform to the lean or be horizontal! Its a strange one for sure…

 

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