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
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, 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
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.
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
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
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
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…
Today – 29th December (Tahsas 19 in the Ethiopian calendar) is one of the two big annual Gabriel festivals (the other one comes on 28 July), and is the culmination of one of the biggest pilgrimages in Ethiopia.
Kulubi is a small place some 60km from Dire Dawa, but today tens of thousands of pilgrims will have converged on the St Gabriel’s church there, many walking for days to get there.
The joint churches of Gabriel & Rufael in Lalibela
But all across Ethiopia, today is a huge celebration at every Gabriel church. Whether in Addis Ababa, in Lalibela, or on a Tesfa community trek in a village where a church has a Gabriel Tabot, there will be special celebrations.
Entrance to Mikael & Golgotta in Lalibela
On 19th June Lalibela celebrates a big double festival, as it is both an annual day for St Mikael (Senay Mikael) and the anniversary of the death of the Saint-King Lalibela. This is the biggest celebration in Lalibela after Gena (Christmas) and attracts many Ethiopian pilgrims from the surrounding area to see the festival … but few tourists.
On the eve of the day itself, there will be singing and chanting around Bete Mikael & Golgotta (where the Saint-King is buried), and in the morning the two Tabots (Mikael and Lalibela) will be paraded out to a nearby tent with great pomp and celebration, and an hour or so after will return to the church.
Later on you should see the market – although it is a Friday there will be an especially big market that day in town, full of livestock and other local produce.
This is a day you should not miss!
Tesfa Tours are offering an all inclusive 4 day package for $700 USD per person (minimum group 2 people) including local flights (based on having local resident cards or national ID), transport, accommodation at the best hotel in town, entry fees & guides, AND two nights trekking in Meket with the local communities as your hosts. (Only excludes meals and drink in Lalibela, bottled drinks on the trek and personal expenses and gratuities etc). Please email email@example.com for more details.