My Own Private Pilgrimage
Just before reaching today’s camp in Salela a gravel road leads to a superb viewpoint over the Blue Nile Gorge. A couple of kilometers down this road there is a monastery. I decided to leave my bike here and walk down to the monastery, as it should be open to visitors.
The pleasant descent leads me through a typical Ethiopian village, we are already accustomed to by now. Greeted by pilgrims and locals and escorted by children asking for pens and money I find the monastery at the very end of the road; all fences locked and no sign where I can expect it to be open again. Seeing no ticket office, I speak to one of the pilgrims in front of the monastery. Nine o’clock is all he can say. That’s six hours from now and I should be in bed by then.
To the left is a construction site and I walk in there. No one stops me and I discover what looks like the monk’s dormitory. Knocking on a few doors brings some life to the silent building. One door opens and a monk blesses me immediately with a wooden cross as we see so many around Ethiopia. The monk does not speak English and I don’t speak Ahmaric. I do my best to make clear that I came walking down the road to se the monastery and if it will be open soon to visit.
A younger monk covered in a shining bright yellow blanked is called upon as he speaks some English, it becomes clear that I can visit the church after some formalities when the current mass will be finished. He proposes to walk to the nearby sacred cave and water during the waiting time. He calls and armed guard to guide me up the cobble stone path to the cave. It is locked with brightly painted metal doors but the key is found soon and the door opened. Inside is a variety of garbage bins and containers to collect water that drips through the ceiling of the cave. I’m invited to taste some and while I’m now well into adventure I accept this opportunity… holding a special prayer stick.
When we reach back at the church the pilgrims/ congregation has just left and the monk in the yellow blanket welcomes me inside the church. Doors are locked and I’m getting an explanation on the history of the monastery at this site and how it is related to the other monasteries in Ethiopia. The first church Founded in 13th century) was destroyed by the Muslims and the Second Church in 1928 (1936) by Italians killing most of the monks there. The present church was finished in 1961 (1969?) and contains fine modern glass stained windows as well as some old relics and the remains of the founder (St. Clement?)
I’m invited to take pictures and questions are answered. It was a good experience to get to know some differences and common details between western Christianity and the Ethiopian Coptic religion. During the one hour walk back to my bicycle I feel delighted by my own private pilgrimage
– Edvard Sloots.