Shrouded in mystery and legend lay 20 monumental monasteries concealed deep within a lake which, apart from being Ethiopia’s largest, is the source of the river to which was attributed the existence of an entire civilization with the words: “The gift of Nile.”
Lake Tana has always been more than just an ordinary lake. It is believed to have been connected to several extraordinary historic occasions dating back thousands of years. Even its name has an exceptional story associated with it, linked to Virgin Mary’s arrival to Ethiopia along with her son during their flee from king Herodes. It’s not the magical lake alone, however, that shines with astonishing history, but also are the jewels of exceptional historic and spiritual significance it holds. Lake Tana hosts some of Ethiopia’s oldest monasteries, some of which horde treasure houses that stuff historical treasures of enormous significance ranging from the crowns of former emperors to the mummified remains of notable Ethiopian kings like king Fasiledes, the founder of Gondar.
My focus for this piece, however, is going to be one particular monastery set on the forested edge of the Zege peninsula 10km north-west of Bahir Dar, Ura Kidane Mihret. Ura Kidane Mihret is an ancient monastery whose founding can be traced back to the 14th century.
The circular church was built later in the 16th century. The Maqdus of the church is covered in an incredible jumble of murals to whose beauty is found no match. Most of them were painted from 100-250 years ago. Although the artists behind the paintings of the EOTC are mostly anonymous, the most recent of the murals in the church can be attributed to the well renowned 19th-century artist Aleka Engida who lived during the last days of Menilik II’s reign.
There are also some intriguing line drawings on one of the doors, while a separate museum has a few old crowns of Ethiopian kings, leather-bound Bibles, a massive gold cross, and other ancient treasures.
Engulfed by the mystical forest of the Zege peninsula, the theme of the place offers an extraordinary retreat from the noise of the outside world, enabling a truly peaceful spiritual life for those who came seeking it.
Another special thing besides the historical treasures found in the monastery is the large stones the monks use as bells. To your astonishment, the sound the stones make fantastically resembles that of a typical metal bell, yet with a much more appealing tone.
The monastery’s museum holds a variety of historical assets ranging from ancient Christian scriptures written on leather papers (Brana) to huge golden crosses and royal assets like crowns.
Reachable from Ura Kidane Mihret by boat, or by following a 2km footpath through thick forest, stand the disused churches of Mehal Giyorgis and Bet Maryam. Mehal Giyorgis is little more than a shell but there are some 18th-century murals on the standing walls. There are several antiquities locked away in Bet Maryam. Another interesting church on the peninsula is Azuwa Maryam, which lies closer to Ura Kidane Mihret, and also boasts several animated 18th-century paintings.
Due to its exquisiteness and accessibility for both men and women, Ura Kidane Mihret is the most visited monastery in the Tana region, and you shouldn’t miss the charming experience of visiting this mystical earthly heaven.
Article By: Kaleab Ayenew