Ethiopia - Gheralta, Tigray landscape
Ethiopia - Gheralta, Tigray landscape

Debretsion (Abune Abraham)

The church of Debretsion is not far from Degum, the village considered by many as the most appropriate camping place to explore the rock-hewn churches of Gheralta. Degum is 29 kms west of Wukro or 18 kms southeast of Hawzien. Debretsion can be approached from the southwest of the escarpment on top of which the church is situated. It is about 40 miniutes’ walk from the foot of the escarpment or about an hour from Degum. Situated at the top edge of the escarpment overlooks Degum and the entire Hawzien plain.

Often referred to as Abune Abraham after the monk who founded it. Debretsion is a church entirely hewn from a living rock. It is rectangular in shape, 12,9 metres deep, 7,7 metres wide and high. Its ceiling is supported by six cruciform pillars and its three sides are surounded by a cloister. The back walls of the holy of holies, the domes and the wall panels are abundantly decorated with fine paintings of saints and apostles. Especially the dome is beautifully adorned with patterns. Beause of the simplicity of the lines and colors the paintings are estimated to be of the 15th century although according to some the church itself is thought to be constructed in the 14th century. Even though it is amazing to learn that the paintings have survived to this day without receiving due care and protection, their color is now fading away at an alarming rate due to water seepage.

A 15th century unique circular ceremonial fan (one meter in diameter) with wooden framework makes the visit to this church special. Each of its 34 panels is finely painted with figures of apostles. There is also a small domed room considered to have served as Abune Abraham’s prayer room. Its walls are decorated with many geometrical designs and saints. it is indeed a manifestation of the great stone workmanship that was prevalent in the whole of Tigrai both at that time and before. It is one of the great churches of Tigre, both from the architectural and devotional aspect.

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