Ambassador Hailemichael guest speaker at book launch on Ethiopian Churches

11 Dec 2017

H.E. Ambassador Hailemichael Aberra Afework was the guest speaker at the launch of Ethiopia: The Living Churches of an Ancient Kingdom at the October Gallery in Bloomsbury on 15th November.

The Revd Dr John Binns, a visiting professor at the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies at Cambridge, also spoke at the event, which was attended by 80 guests including members of the Ethiopian Heritage Fund, the Anglo-Ethiopian Society, media and friends of Ethiopia.

Ethiopia: The Living Churches of an Ancient Kingdom, features 800 superb photographs of 66 of Ethiopia’s ancient churches. The most comprehensive publication yet of Ethiopia’s Christian Orthodox heritage, it unveils the secrets of the churches’ murals, their colourful medieval history and the rich panopoly of their religious festivals.

(l-r): Angela Fisher, H.E. Ambassador Hailemichael Aberra Afework, Mary Anne Fitzgerald, Carol Beckwith and Philip Marsden

The photographs were taken by award-winning photographers including Nigel Pavitt, Angela Fisher and Carol Beckwith. The substantive, well-researched text is by Mary Anne Fitzgerald and Philip Marsden, both of whom have written extensively about Ethiopia over the past three decades.

Ambassador Hailemichael told guests that Ethiopia is the Land of Origins, with humans, coffee and civilisation all being traced back to this ancient country; Christianity in Ethiopia also dates back to the 4th century AD and churches play an important role in protecting Ethiopia’s culture and history through music and language. In conclusion, the Ambassador invited guests to visit Ethiopia to experience the cauldron of history and culture it has to offer.

Ambassador Hailemichael addressing guests

The ancient Aksumite kingdom was among the first in the world to adopt Christianity as the official state religion. In 340 AD King Ezana commissioned the construction of the imposing basilica of St. Mary of Tsion. It was here, the Ethiopians say, that Menelik, the son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, brought the Ark of the Covenant containing the Ten Commandments. By the 6th century, nine saints from Byzantium were spreading the faith south deep into the remote parts of Tigray. Many of them were deliberately inaccessible, sited atop ambas  and sheer-sided mountains or carved into cliff faces. Here the monks and hermits led a meditative existence suspended between the worldly life on the plains below and the celestial panorama above that held the promise of the kingdom of heaven.

Over the next ten centuries a series of spectacular churches were either built or excavated out of solid rock and decorated with a cornucopia of murals between soaring pillars, arches and cupolas. All of these churches are still in regular use to this day. In Lalibela, 800-year-old rock-hewn churches attract tourists and tens of thousands of pilgrims every year. In the 1630s, Emperor Fasilidas moved the capital to Gondar near Lake Tana and the clergy followed. Monks established monasteries on islands in the lake, looking for a secluded place to retreat from the world and pursue a life of prayer. Monks living on the islands of Lake Tana are considered to have achieved such spirituality that they are omitted from the national population census as they are already halfway to heaven.

The book is on sale at Waterstones, John Sandoe and Amazon and would make a lovely Christmas present! ISBN: 9789774168437

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