Commissioned by Emperor Menelik II to commemorate his stunning 1896 defeat of the Italians in Adwa, and dedicated to St George (Ethiopia’s patron saint), whose icon was carried into the battle, this Piazza cathedral is one of Addis' most beautiful churches. The grey stone exterior is easily outdone by the interior’s flashes of colour and art. Sections of ceiling glow sky-blue and boast gilded stars, while the outer walls of the innermost shrine are covered in paintings and mosaics by the renowned Afewerk Tekle.
The church, built in traditional octagonal form and with a severe neoclassical style, was completed in 1911 with the help of Greek, Armenian and Indian artists. Empress Zewditu (in 1916) and Emperor Haile Selassie (in 1930) were both crowned here.
In the grounds just north of the cathedral is the museum. It’s included on the church admission ticket, is well presented and contains probably the best collection of ecclesiastical paraphernalia in the country outside St Mary of Zion in Aksum. Items include beautiful crowns, crosses, prayer sticks, holy scrolls, ceremonial umbrellas and the coronation garb of Zewditu and Haile Selassie.
Entry includes a guided tour of both the museum and church. Try to get Archdeacon Mebratu to be your guide. He’s very entertaining – maybe the most amusing and informative church guide we’ve had anywhere in Ethiopia – and liable to burst into song and dance, and get you to do likewise, at the drop of a hat.