Yemrehanna Kristos Church

Yemrehanna Kristos Monastery - Yimrhane Kristos - Yemrehana Krestos Church

Useful Information

Location: 40 km northeast Lalibela. Amhara Region, northern Ethiopia
(12.13951, 39.07203)
Open: All year daily.
Fee: free.
Classification: SubterraneaCave Church
Light: bring torch
Guided tours:
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no, many steps to the cave church
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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11th century church erected.
2016 spatial documentation during the Zamani Project field campaign.


Yemrehanna Kristos Church is a cave church built into a deep natural cave. It is located some 40 km from world famous Lalibela churches, and predates those monolithic churches. It is late Axumite and was named for a 12th century Zagwe priest-king and saint. The church is protected by a much younger and quite ugly wall at the cave entrance. Quite exceptional in this arid country is a small waterfall flowing over the cave entrance.

The facade of the cave church is characteristic with it horizontal white stripes. It seems the wall was built using two different materials, a thick layer which protrudes and is painted white and a thin layer which has the natural bright brown of the timber. The facade has numerous small windows, which contain wooden plates instead of glass. To allow light inside, holes were cut into the wood in various shapes forming a cross-like pattern. The crosses differ from window to window, there are Latin crosses, Maltese crosses, lily crosses, and more.

The interior of the church is decorated with murals and abstract patterns on the wall. At the far side numerous people were buried by simply stapling thousands of mummies. Many of them are monks of the monastery. Others are said to be pilgrims, who came and decided to be buried here. They stayed and read the bible until they died.

According to legend the church was built by King Yemrehanna Kristos to end the pre-christian use as a sacrificial cave.

In 2016 the church was scanned during the Zamani Project, which was founded by the World Monument Found (WMF) and the Saville Foundation. They created a 3D model of the cave with all buildings and a photographic documentation, which was used to create a textured 3D model.