Orthodox Christians’ Celebration In Lalibela, Ethiopia

Praying inside Bet Medhane Alem Church

 

Photographer Filipe Bianchi is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this documentary photography. From his project ‘Meskel In Lalibela‘. To see Filipe’s gallery of projects click on any image.

 

Blessing

Blessing

 

Kissing the Lalibela Cross (Afro Ayigeba)

Kissing the Lalibela Cross (Afro Ayigeba)

 

Taking a picture with the Lalibela Cross

Taking a picture with the Lalibela Cross

 

Old traditional festivals tend to disappear or become tourist attractions, losing many of the original features. Meskel celebrations in Ethiopia still maintain most of its original features. Meskel celebrations in Lalibela are one of the most recognized and colorful religious festivals in Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity.

 

Elders waiting for the celebrations

Elders waiting for the celebrations

 

Pilgrims arrive from every nearby village

Pilgrims arrive from every nearby village

 

The word ‘Meskel’ actually means ‘cross’ in Amharic and the feast commemorates the discovery by Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, of the cross upon which Jesus was crucified.

The Meskel celebrations include the burning of a large bonfire, based on the belief that Empress Helena had a revelation in a dream. She was told that she should make a bonfire and the smoke would show her where the true cross was buried. So she ordered the people of Jerusalem to bring wood and make a huge pile. After adding frankincense to it the bonfire was lit and the smoke rose high up to the sky and returned to the ground, exactly to the spot where the Cross had been buried.

 

Everybody gets around the bonfire

Everybody gets around the bonfire

 

According to local traditions, the Demera procession takes place in the early evening the day before Meskel or on the day itself. The firewood is decorated with daisies prior to the celebration.

 

The celebrations start with a procession of priests holding their churches crosses

The celebrations start with a procession of priests holding their churches crosses

 

Bread distribution

Bread distribution

 

Charcoal from the remains of the fire is afterwards collected and used by the faithful to mark their foreheads with the shape of a cross.

 

Everybody is happy during the Meskel celebrations

Everybody is happy during the Meskel celebrations

 

People draw a cross on the forehead with ashes from the bonfire

People draw a cross on the forehead with ashes from the bonfire

 

Priests come from other villages

Priests come from other villages

 

See also:

Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival

By Filipe Bianchi

 


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