Debre Birhan Selassie Church, Gondar

The Debre Birhan Selassie (Trinity and Mountain of Light) Church in Gondar is famed for its beautiful examples of Ethiopian church art. Built by an emperor and preserved by an archangel, it is also among the most important churches of Ethiopia.


History of Debre Birhan Selassie Church

Debre Birhan Selassie was built by Emperor Eyasu II (also known as Birhan Seged, "He to Whom the Light Bows") in the 17th Century. It was named Debre Birhan, "Mountain of Light," after the Emperor's nickname as well as in honor of the church of the same name in Shewa.

At the Debre Birhan Church in Shewa, a miraculous apparition of the Holy Light of God is said to have occured in the Middle Ages during the reign of Emperor Zera Yacob the Great. In exchange for the right of using its name, the Gondar church paid the Shewan church an annual tribute.

When the Mahdist Dervishes of the Sudan sacked the city of Gondar in 1888, they burned down every church in the city except Debre Birhan Selassie. According to local legend, when the Mahdist soldiers approached the church, a swarm of bees decended on the compound of the church and kept the soldiers back, and the Archangel Michael himself stood before the large wooden gates with a flaming sword drawn.

What to See at Debre Birhan Selassie Church

The outside of Debre Birhan Selassie is rather plain, but its interior has made it one of Ethiopia's top tourist attractions.

The walls depict biblical scenes and saints and the ceiling is covered with the faces of hundreds of angels. Icons of the Holy Trinity (three identical men with halos) and the Crucifixion have pride of place above the entrance to the Holy of Holies.

Above the floor of the church are the curtained windows of the second story stall from which Emperor Eyasu II and his mother Empress Mentewab would look down on the ceremonies.

Quick Facts on Debre Birhan Selassie Church

Site Information
Names:Debre Birhan Selassie Church
Status: active
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:12.612400° N, 37.480300° E
Address:Gondar, Ethiopia
Lodging:View hotels near Debre Birhan Selassie Church
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours and prices can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.

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© Jean-Claude Morand
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© Martha de Jong-Lantink
© Martha de Jong-Lantink

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