Tuesday, August 23, 2011


We visited the Ethiopian church in West Jerusalem, in the vicinity of the Russian Compound, not for religious reasons, but out of sheer admiration for the beautiful building and surroundings, and because of interest and curiosity in the long history of this institution in Israel. This is the spiritual home of the Ethiopian Coptic clergy.
The Ethiopian-Orthodox church has at least since the Middle Age a community in Jerusalem. Over the next centuries the church had ownership over many important holy sites, which they later lost almost completely during the dominion of the Ottomans.
This church building, called Debre Gannet, which is Amharic and means "Monastery of Paradise" is situated in Ethiopia street, in the middle of beautiful 19th century villas built with Jerusalem stone, sitting inside wonderful gardens with old tall trees. It was erected in 1893 by the Ethiopian emperor Johannes I. He wanted his people to have a presence in modern Jerusalem in addition to their church Deir es-Sultan adjacent to the Holy Sepulchre in the old city, near the Jaffa gate. The complex is circumfenced with a beautiful courtyard, adorned with olive trees and a statue of Haile Selassie. Around the courtyard are living quarters for the monks and some families.
Today, the Ethiopian Church in Israel is a small community, which is headed by an archbishop. It consists essentially of a few dozen monks and nuns who live in the old town and near the Ethiopian Church in West Jerusalem. The congregation of believers and followers is constantly growing. 
While visiting there monks were sitting in the courtyard, willing to talk to us and allowing us to photograph them. Most of them are only Amharic speaking and seldom fluent in neither Arabic nor Hebrew and almost never in English or any other language and are dependent on those in the community who do, so they called a younger fellow to translate.
Before entering the church the shoes have to be removed, and there is a separate entrance for men and women. 
The lion over the gate is the symbol of the church. When queen Sheba visited Jerusalem, king Solomon gave her a banner depicting a lion of Judah, thus the Ethiopians believe of being descendents of Sheba and Solomon.
The bell tower adorned with a small cupola and a cross.
The church is built as a high domed round structure. The inside is very colorful, with tall pink square columns, the ceiling painted blue with flowers and stars and garlands, the floor covered with flower motive carpets, all in a native and charming way. 
Light is flowing in from the big windows. Hanging iron wrought lamps add to the ambient. Many religious paintings, symbols and images decorate the walls. 
The holy altar is  in the middle, to be seen, but not to be touched. The prayer ceremonies are usually very long and walking sticks with chin rests are distributed in several corners for the monks to help them stand still more comfortably. 
Many artifacts can be admired on the windowsills and on shelves, like drums, beautiful vases, many full of artificial flowers, embroidered table cloth and shiny curtains. Candles are everywhere. It is allowed to watch the community pray at the ceremonies. Music made with traditional instruments and dancing play a very large part in the services.
A mother and her sweet child sitting in the courtyard.
On Shabatt morning the court yard bustled with Ethiopian women and children, many in their traditional outfit. A monk sitting on a bench with girls and boys was teaching them Bible in Amharic and it was very lovely to watch. When we asked if we could photograph he smiled and nodded. The girls were attired in pretty white dresses with lovely embroidered hems. The Ethiopian people are very beautiful. The children are just adorable - and they all speak Hebrew very well.
We enjoyed that outing very much and learned a lot about friendly people different in culture and belief from us, but yet so humanly behaving like we all.

Photographs as always by my husband Uri Eshkar.


Smilla said...

Liebe Yahel
eine schöne und spannende Reportage...
Nur im Austausch der Kulturen kann auch das Verständnis und die Toleranz wachsen!!
Merci fûr die kleine Reise in deine angrenzende Welt!!
♥-lich Brigitte

Bob Bushell said...

They are so beautiful, keep sending them.

Annuk said...

What a beautiful and fascinating post, Yael! As always, a pleasure to read and look at! The photos are wonderful, both of the buildings and the people! There is so much beauty and humanity in these pictures, and in your words.

Irmi said...

Liebe Yael,
Dank an Deinen Gatten für die herrlichen Fotos.
Ich habe Deine Ausführungen mit großem Interessee gelesen. Vieles war neu für mich, obwohl ich mich sehr viel mit anderen Religionen beschäftige.
Liebe Grüße schickt Dir

Smithy said...

A magical post, dear Yael, as always!

Dawn of LaTouchables said...

What a fascinating place and places...the colors and people make it!

Pesky Cat Designs said...

You live amongst so much history and culture. Thanks for sharing these amazing photos!

zhsky said...

Thank you for that post and pictures! Don't you remember the opening hours for the church?

Anonymous said...

Ethiopia will stretch her hands unto God.
You Israel,are you not my children like Ethiopians?
Thanks for showing this God-loving people's culture and religion