Debre Libanos Monastery

Northern Ethiopia

Although no trace of the 13th-century monastery remains (a casualty of the Muslim–Christian Wars), the modern site is impressively set beneath a waterfall-rich cliff (many of the monks live in caves up there) on the edge of the large Jemma River Gorge and is a peaceful place to wander. The present church was built in 1961 by Haile Selassie, against the wishes of the local priests, after hearing a prophesy that a new church would ensure a long reign.

The church is monumental and pretty awful on the outside, but the stained-glass windows are attractive.

Debre Libanos has one of the most interesting church museums in Ethiopia. Besides the usual ecclesiastical items there are Italian guns, giant cooking pots, crowns of past emperors and their wives, musical instruments and an old wooden shackle. Fifteen minutes up the hill from the monastery is the cave of Tekla Haimanot (the monastery's founder), where the saint is said to have done all his praying. It’s also the source of Debre Libanos' famed holy water.

A monument in front of the church memorialises the hundreds of innocent priests, deacons and worshipers who were massacred here by the Italians following an assassination attempt on the notoriously brutal viceroy Graziani in 1937 (he was later imprisoned by the Italians as a war criminal for crimes against humanity).

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