Lalibela, Ethiopia 2018
During the last week of December the famous town of Lalibela, located in the northern Ethiopian region Amhara, becomes the “center of the world” for the Ethiopian Orthodox worshippers. Hundreds of pilgrims leave their houses weeks before January 7th and walk to the iconic “Rock Hewn Churches” to get ready to celebrate the Holy Christmas there. From the window of a rusty local minivan who was driving me to the small city surrounded by mountains, they immediately appeared just after a couple of kilometres, queuing at the horizon, wrapped in their white clothes and carry on the characteristic wooden stick, a necessary support during the trip. Pilgrims arrive from everywhere, some of them covering till 300 km by foot through the region, carrying on just the strictly necessary for sleeping and little more for survive to reach the holy place. As we get closer to the Holy site, the pilgrims steadily increased till filling up every free space on the ground. They camp their best all around the twelve monolithic churches, passing their time praying, chatting and waiting to celebrate the Nativity. For many people, mostly of them with low education and agriculture-breeding income, this religious event is the possibility to meet distant friends they couldn’t reach in any other way because of the huge distance and the lack of economic possibility. Be part of this celebration is a taught goal to achieve for the pilgrims, but the huge efforts will be replaced by a blessing for the entire year, and this simple thing is enough for them. For the whole Christmas time multiple functions start at dawn in every church and continue throughout the whole days. In this beautiful scenario which gathers twelve of the most beautiful “Rock Hewn Churches” of the world, everything is amplified and frozen at the same time inside an ancient past. From early in the morning dozens of people queuing outside the small entrances, most of them at the end of claustrophobic rock tunnels large enough for just a human. Bodies are compressed, smells are intense. Following the chilly, moulded air coming from the end of the tunnel, pilgrims follow the crowd and reach the church. Shoes and sandals are taken out and left outside the entrance in sign of respect. Believer or not, to be there it was like being back 2000 years in the past, among those shepherds who decided, after have seen the passage of the comet in the night sky, to travel from the most remote places of their country to the visit baby Jesus. Every face, every cloth, every sound tell a thousands years old story, years of history dig in the face of the people as on the rock of the mountains, both of them part of the deepest memory of Ethiopia.