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This massive and ornate cathedral is the second-most important place of worship in Ethiopia (ranking behind the Old Church of St Mary of Zion in Aksum). It’s also the celebrated final resting place of Emperor Haile Selassie and his wife Empress Menen Asfaw. Their massive Aksumite-style granite tombs sit inside and are a sight indeed. The solemnity of the interior design contrasts sharply with highly the charged emotions of many pilgrims. It's a fascinating place.
The cathedral’s exterior, with its large copper dome, spindly pinnacles, numerous statues and flamboyant mixture of international styles, provides an interesting and sometimes poignant glimpse into many episodes of Ethiopia’s history.
Inside, there are some grand murals, the most notable being Afewerk Tekle’s depiction of the Holy Trinity, with Matthew (man), Mark (lion), Luke (cow) and John (dove) peering through the clouds. There are also some brilliant stained-glass windows (those on the north depict scenes from the Old Testament, those to the south from the New) and two beautifully carved imperial thrones, each made of white ebony, ivory and marble.
The entrance fee also includes admission to a small but impressive museum of ecclesiastical artefacts in the grounds out the back.
To the south of the cathedral is the memorial and graves of the ministers killed by the Derg for their opposition in 1974. Due to the prime minister’s compound being behind this memorial, photographs are strictly forbidden.
The churchyard also hosts the graves of many patriots who died fighting the Italian occupation, including the great Resistance fighter Ras Imru. To the west of the cathedral is the tomb of the famous British suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst. Sylvia was one of the very few people outside Ethiopia who protested Italy’s occupation; she moved to Addis Ababa in 1956. On the north side is the tomb of Meles Zenawi, prime minister of Ethiopia until his sudden death in 2012.
Purchase tickets at the administration office 20m west of the main gate. Self-appointed guides charge Birr20 to Birr30 per person.